Monthly Archives: January 2012

City Love: Bag Tax

The blog needs focus. It turns out that the universe of things I could be writing about is too big. Focus it shall have! I’m turning it into a site about living in a sustainable way – both environmentally (watch out, there might be more posts about eggs), and spiritually/emotionally (where I will likely talk more about other people’s feelings than my own, because I am a chicken and the Internet is forever).

Kicking this off, I would like to turn your attention to something that is old news around these parts, but might be new news to more far-flung friends of mine: the DC bag tax. Excellent story about it here:

Excellent Story about the DC Bag Tax

In our fair city, shoppers are charged a nickel for every disposable shopping bag they use, paper or plastic. The money from this tax goes to clean up the Anacostia river, which is (apparently) polluted in no small part by random plastic bags that make their way down there. I like this because using money from taxing the use of plastic bags strikes me as poetic justice.

I should probably admit here that I have no independent knowledge of the workings of the bag tax. I do not know how the money is collected or what, exactly it’s spent on for river clean-up. I don’t know if it’s making any difference to the state of the Anacostia River. I speak as a consumer and user of plastic bags, and I like the bag tax because of how it has affected my behavior as a consumer.

The bag tax makes me a better person.

Really. Granted, it makes me a better person in a very small way. I now use reusable shopping bags to do my grocery shopping. I used to be one of those people who would get to the check out and be all, “Doh!” “Forgot the reusable shopping bags AGAIN.” And now, for the price of only a nickel a bag, I hardly ever do this anymore. Being charged for bags makes it stick in my mind that there is a cost to single-use bags. It makes me remember to take the reusable ones. I like remembering. I feel like I’m saving the world. And when I forget, I like that someone reminds me at the check-out to remember next time by charging me 15 cents.

I don’t know about you, fellow DC shoppers, but I like the bag tax because, anecdotally at least, it works. You know more people are carrying around reusable bags now. You know convenience stores stopped automatically giving you a plastic bag for a pack of gum. You’ve seen people bear-hugging a pack of toilet paper because looking silly is worth more than a nickel to them (I fully admit that I am one of those people). I think it’s great.

I’m a big fan of empiricism in these matters. We shouldn’t support a tax like this because it feels good, but because it objectively affects behavior in the desired way. There will be studies, but I’m willing to bet it’s reduced plastic bag use.

If you don’t think single-use bags are a big deal, you are probably not a fan of the tax. And it’s possible that taken in the context of this great big world of ours, it doesn’t make a bit of difference how many plastic bags we use. It’s probably a small fish to fry. But I have another reason to like it – it’s a great symbol. It makes me more conscious of other single-use things in my life, and makes me question whether there is another way to get done what I need to get done without them. Cool! Has it done that for anyone else?

In the end, what I do know is that it’s reduced MY plastic bag use, and I like it. Sometimes, it turns out I need a little coercion to do what I should have been doing all along. Thanks for the economic disincentive, DC government!