Last summer, the DC Council approved a 5¢ tax on each disposable shopping bag distributed at stores within the District. The goal of the tax was not so much to raise money as to reduce waste and clean up litter. At the beginning of this year, that tax took effect. It is showing results almost immediately.
Less than a month into the program, which D.C. officials describe as an effort to reduce litter and generate funds to clean up the Anacostia River, the nickel bag fee is having a big impact. Managers at stores that sell food or beverages say the switchover has cut the use of plastic bags by half or more. One Safeway in Northwest reports a falloff of more than 6,000 bags a week, about half of its former volume.If the Post is to be believed, many residents are responding to the tax in unnecessarily difficult ways. One resident reports paying more to shop in Virginia so that she will not pay the bag tax. Other residents try to carry more items than they physically can without any bag at all. I hope that these reactions are not the typical ones because adapting to the tax need not involve so much self-inflicted pain. There is a third choice besides a taxed disposable bag and no bag at all – a reusable bag. Most stores offer durable reusable bags at cheap prices; one can also pay a bit more to obtain more stylish shopping bags of various sizes and materials. I have read many tips for making reusable bag use easier; one of the best is to keep bags in places that will make it easy to remember them if you go shopping.
And for customers, the bag law is changing the District's carryout culture in ways large and small. A lunchtime army of office workers now ply the sidewalks with near-naked sandwiches and sodas filling their hands, making some diners more self-conscious about what they buy. Parking lots feature impromptu juggling acts as determined fee-avoiders teeter to their cars with heaping armloads of loose groceries. And people are stockpiling reusable shopping bags -- and routinely forgetting to take them shopping.
Still it is good to see that the tax is having its intended effect of cutting back on disposable bags. Over time, I hope that almost all will be eliminated.