Bag Tax

I have been hoping that a big player like Walmart or Target will start to charging for bags, even just a nickle a bag would do.  The D.C. has stepped up and has taken a stance as a municipality they want to reduce consumption of bags.

Washington D.C. instituted a 5-cent tax on disposable bags—both paper and plastic—on New Year’s Day. Now, when you go to the grocery store in the District, you pay a little extra if you get a new tree- or oil-based bag rather than bring your own.plastic bag

There seems to be lots of grumbling from the locals about what a hassle/expense the tax is, but the thing is: It’s been wildly successful as a waste-cutting measure. Store managers are reporting that the number of bags they buy and use has dropped by around 50 percent. They should be happy about that because it cuts their costs. The tax will also generate an estimated $3.6 million in revenue for the District.

Many commenters are taking this as an example of how the difference between a free bag and a 5-cent bag can be huge, psychologically speaking. It’s also interesting to contrast this with the proposed 20-cent bag tax that was rejected by voters in Seattle (would a smaller tax have passed?) and the plastic bag ban in San Francisco, which did more to reduce bag use, but generated no revenue and may have increased grocery prices for everyone.

I’m glad it’s working, but I’m still slightly baffled that so many people need a tax to prompt them to rethink whether getting a disposable bag with every little purchase makes sense. I’m bummed when I forget to bring a reusable bag to the grocery store, not because of a tax (there isn’t one in Los Angeles), because using a plastic bag means unnecessary production and waste. I get that economics tells us we’re all supposed to be utility-maximizing rational choosers, but for me being generally resource smart and taking care of the planet actually feels better than not caring.

Reprinted: Good Andrew Price Jan 2010

  1. Anyone know of the toxicity of bag breakdown over time? I always wondered about stuffing many of these within one tied bag to use as well stuffing. If not for human use, then at least for animal shelters (chicken coops), etc…
    I think Michael Janzen is trying it with his…

    Lloyd Kahn just blogged on it too!

  2. I like the idea of this minuscule tax of a nickle per bag, however I can also see the precedence being made. I always forget to bring my reusable bags with me when I go shopping, but I don’t throw away the plastic bags I receive. Unless they’re ripped, I reuse them as trash bags, typically getting three or more uses out of each bag before I must finally dispose of them. One annoyance I have, however, is that recycling centers won’t take the plastic bags – and the same is said with glossy papers too. It just doesn’t make sense – and I admit I haven’t done research as to why neither of the two products are allowed to be recycled, so the ignorance is on my part.

    • The problem is that with some recycling is that it can cost a lot of money to do and also a lot of power. With most recycling the benefit to electricity ratio is poor, often meaning we expend more then we get. We need to focus on reducing.

      As for the tax and precedence, yes I don’t like that, it should be the company/store charging if anything.

  3. See here for great discussions on plastic bags (scroll down a bit):

    • What a great blog! I have been thinking of tracking my own trash to get a better idea and make some changes. Products are so over packaged, it makes me sick!

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