Friday, February 13, 2009

The Stick Approach: Bag Tax

Councilmember Tommy Wells is set to introduce legislation Tuesday that would place a 5 cent tax on each bag you use when buying items at supermarkets, convenience stores, and other shops. The idea is to encourage shoppers to bring their own bags. Those who don't would pay a small tax, about 2 cents of which would go to cleaning the Anacostia, 2 cents to the business, and about a cent into a fund for providing seniors and low-income residents with reusable bags.

Although polution caused by plastic bags is the primary issue, the bill would also apply the tax to paperbags as an incentive to get buy-in from store owners, since paperbags are more costly than plastic. (Some think this goes too far)

San Francisco and Oakland, California have banned plastic bags outright due to environmental concerns. Some other states and countries are considering restrictions, including Maryland.

The plastic bags do seem to be everywhere -- I particularly enjoy spotting that species of tree that is native to urban environments -- the bag tree. I'll need to get a photo of one of those for the blog.

What do you think of the Wells' proposal? There is an online petition here if you would like to express your support.

Over the past year or so, I moved toward bagless. Now, for planned trips to the supermarket I use the canvass reusable bags. Not only is it more green, it's actually much more convenient. They hold much, much more. And they are more comfortable to carry than heavy plastic bags that cut into your hand and more than occasionally split open, sending your food rolling down the sidewalk. Grocers sell the bags to customers for $1 each, making them readily available - I purchased mine at the Super Safeway (CityVista).

But plastic bags still have their purposes, whether it's for dog poo or household trash, particularly. Even when relying on reusable bags, the impulse or small purchase keeps a sufficient supply. If plastic was not available at all, then I'd just have to buy them, which seems to defeat the purpose.

I do have some mixed feelings about the proposed bag tax. I remember back in the day in New York, and this still is the case there, when soda cans had a 5-cent refund. As kids, we'd walk the beach and pick up dozens of cans, then bring them to the supermarket and double or triple our allowance. This seemed to encourage recycling, while providing a free army of trash haulers. It was a carrot approach. DC is considering the stick.

Are there other ways to encourage use of reusable bags and reduce use of plastic bags?


Anonymous said...

Good Bag Tree photo to be had at the back of 444 Q

DCThrowback said...

I think it's a shame that 90% of plastic bag users are being punished with a tax when 10% of users can't handle the idea of throwing them away.

fourthandeye said...

Greater Greater Washington has more commentary on this issue.

@DCThrowback - The issue is bigger than litter. Plastic doesn't decompose. What's convenient isn't always best for society.

I don't have an issue with paying 5 cents for a bag for impromptu after work purchases. For big grocery shopping trips it will ensure I bring canvas bags to use.