"I think it's overall a good thing," said Gary Cha, owner of six Yes! Organic food stores in the District and head of Washington's Korean-American grocers, many of whom operate small neighborhood stores. Merchants have seen an increase in shoplifting, he said, because it's harder to keep an eye on customers who come in with their own shopping bags. But Cha estimated that his stores, which like many were promoting reusable bags before the fee took effect, are now dispensing 25 percent fewer plastic and paper sacks. But Louis Woodland, for one, isn't on board. "Why should you have to pay for a bag if you buy groceries?" the 63-year-old real estate salesman asked as he left the Good Hope Safeway with his turkey sandwich in hand.
More common, though, were shoppers such as Endia Sharpe, who stood at the bus stop in front of the Safeway with four green and blue reusable bags bearing the Giant Food logo. Sharpe, 24 and unemployed, said she got her bags free from Safeway's competitor. (Both chains gave away thousands of free bags in the run-up to the fee, according to spokesmen.)
"They're better than plastic bags," Sharpe said.
Baltimore's harbor and the streams that feed into it suffer from many of the same ills as the Anacostia. The city is under a federal mandate to reduce the torrent of trash getting into the harbor - as Washington is for the Anacostia - because floating refuse discourages public enjoyment of the water and often carries bacteria and other pollutants.
In the next few weeks, after more than a year of sporadically discussing what to do about bags, Baltimore's City Council might be edging toward a vote on taking a tougher stance than Washington's.
Councilman Bill Henry, representing North Baltimore, has introduced separate bills that would levy a 25 cent fee on disposable plastic and on paper bags. Henry said he proposed a higher fee than Washington's "to try to change behavior as quickly and strongly as possible."
Councilman James B. Kraft, representing the Canton area, is pushing for a ban on plastic bags. A committee vote on the bills is scheduled March 16.
Only a handful of council members have signed on to the bills, and they are opposed by some grocers and advocates for the poor, as well as by national manufacturers of plastic bags. Last year, Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, then City Council president, opposed a 25 cent fee, saying it would hurt low-income residents. Spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said Rawlings-Blake, now the mayor, might support a smaller fee if it exempted those receiving food stamps or other public assistance.
Henry said he's open to "almost any kind of change or compromise" that would win over merchants and other opponents to make progress in reducing litter in the city's streets and waters.
"It's going to be a really tough issue," Kraft said.