Sunday, August 29, 2010

Just Throw it in The Bag (for $0.05)!

Almost a year ago the D.C. City Council imposed a 5 cent tax/charge on plastic bags for customers who buy consumables in the district. The purpose behind the bag tax is 2 fold. One, the council wants to raise money to help clean up the Anacostia River. Second, the council wants to use the tax as a first step towards reducing the use of plastic bags and bottles in DC.

When I heard about this initiative I actually thought it was a good idea.  We all know the issues that face the Anacostia River, and we know that plastic bags are bad for the environment since they are non-biodegradable, and are light weight and hard to keep in one place (like a landfill).  But as time has gone on and I still see people "buying" plastic bags, I wonder if the tax has been beneficial since plastic bags are still available and used regularly.  Could the council have taken this whole bag thing a step further and just removed plastic bags from all businesses?  Could they have charged more than 5 cents for a plastic bag?  Could they do more PR on the reasons why plastic bags are so detrimental to the environment, and specifically the Anacostia River? 

If the whole purpose behind this tax is to reduce the use of plastic bags, I really think people have to have a shift in the way they live to fully make this change.  They have to understand that although plastic bags are convenient, there are other options, and people need to know why this is so important to the environment.  I'm not sure that the average DC resident (or anyone for that matter) is going to get all that just by forcing them to pay an extra 5 cents for a bag.

Brown Tip

Reduce, recycle, reuse:  If you have plastic bags, it's OK, but reuse them instead of throwing them away and buying more.  And just about everyone and their dog has reusable bags now, so load up on those instead of the plastic. 


Anonymous said...

Great article...what many like myself find difficult when using reusable bags is for trash/garbage especially for those with pets. I admit plastic bags come in handy when I scoop my cat's litter box in between trash days. Do you have any green/brown suggestions for pet owners? Can you compost kitty litter safely?

Kawana Cohen-Hopkins said...

Thanks for the comment Urban. There are a number of biodegradable bags out there for pets. These bags are made of corn and are pretty durable. Here's one:

In terms of composting kitty liter, I've heard (via a few blogs) that it really difficult to do since the clay litter leftovers don't break down well :( Also, litter doesn't add to much in terms of nutrients to soil.

joeb! said...

I applaud the effort to clean up the Anacostia and all, but i think this is a misdirected effort amounting only to a increase to the cities coffers (think dc parking schema)... the tax raised 150k thus far, of which i think a fraction is directed to river cleanup projects. While T and I went on an Anacostia river clean up, i was amazed at the trash, so i see the need, but i didn't recall a plethora of bags in the waste collected.

Surely, we all need to reduce our use of plastic bags, but why not force businesses to provide more environmentally sustainable bags, even give them a tax break for doing so? The end result would easily be less plastic bags in circulation. The initial PR blitz was on plastic bags, but why the 5 cent tax on paper bags as well? they slipped that one under the radar. Or why are other (non-food)stores exempt from charging the tax? Why not tax all plastic bags?

Finally, if this is indeed a purely environmental strategy, MD and VA need to get on board as well!

PS. did you hear about this from the Glen Beck Rally?

From the GWU Hatchet:

Though the rally was a mostly peaceful gathering, two rally attendees got into a heated argument with an employee at the GW Deli over the D.C. bag tax, which ultimately resulted in one of the tea party members throwing a sandwich in the deli employee's face. The GW Deli declined to comment on the issue.

Folks are crazy!

Kawana Cohen-Hopkins said...

Say it ain't so Joe!!!! I totally agree. Reducing plastic bag use at food places and grocery stores is only tipping the iceberg and for sure MD and VA need to be involved since they also contribute to the trash that's in the Anacostica and Potomac rivers. And I honestly think if they approached businesses with incentives to not use plastic and use paper instead, it would get more people involved. It wouldn't raise money thought so it makes you wonder whats the real motivation.

joeb! said...

Interesting article in the WSJ..

(Subscription required)

Democrat Tommy Wells, said an informal survey of corporate headquarters for grocery stores and pharmacies with dozens of locations in the city estimated a reduction of 60% or more in the number of bags handed out.

The five-cent levy goes to a fund to clean up Washington’s Anacostia River. Through the end of July, the city collected more than $1.1 million from the bag fee and small donations. At that rate, receipts are likely to fall short of the expected $3.6 million in the first year. Some city officials say that suggests more people than expected are bringing their own bags to stores.

They are bringing in less revenue, so folks are heeding the way!!! wow and cool!