Did the Bag Tax Change District Behavior?

Photo courtesy of
‘100%pcw, Made Carbon Neutral Postcards Ban The Bag 1’
courtesy of ‘Plan It Green Printing’

For the last nine months, getting a plastic bag to carry home your groceries, lunch or liquor store purchase has run you an extra nickel on your final bill. As a report from the Wall Street Journal indicates this morning, that small tax seems to have reduced the amount of times people are answering, “Plastic,” (subscription required) while in the checkout line:

A staff member for the councilman who sponsored the bill, 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.

There are some places you don’t mind falling short on reaching a tax budget, if the number is related to an increased use of reusable bags, fantastic.

(h/t DCist)

Dave Levy is a PR guy by day, a media researcher on the side and a self-proclaimed geek. He blogs often about how traditional media adapts – or tries to adapt – to the growing digital media world at State of the Fourth Estate. You can follow Dave on Twitter for various updates about everything from sports from his previous home in Boston to eccentric and obscure pop culture references. Read why Dave loves D.C.

14 thoughts on “Did the Bag Tax Change District Behavior?

  1. So glad to see the DC bag fee is getting serious press this week! The Surfrider Foundation DC Chapter is continuing to work with numerous other groups to get similar bills passed in Virginia and Maryland. Visit trashfreemaryland.org and trashfreevirginia.org to find out how you can help! Another great article on the same topic can be found here: http://bit.ly/bUCFk3. Thanks to everyone in DC for utilizing those reusable bags…we’re leading the way!

  2. Schizer, calling it a nanny issue implies that this tax is the sort of thing implemented to protect each of us from ourselves personally, like a sin tax. That’s not the case at all. The problem is actual bags ending up in the actual river in our actual city. DC is at least partially responsible for cleaning up the Anacostia/Potomac trash problem, so DC is responsible for coming up with solutions.

    Since plastic bags are the single most common type of trash that makes it to the river, and the single most troublesome type to remove, the solution is clear: reducing the number of plastic bags in use reduces the number of them that can end up in the rivers.

    And considering that local Virginia jurisdictions signed onto the same trash treaty that DC did, you should probably be grateful that DC’s bag tax is keeping bags out of the Anacostia so they don’t float into the Potomac for you all to deal with.

  3. This is nothing more than a tax on the poor under the pretext of saving the Anacostia. Most of the trash in the Anacostia comes from Maryland and none of it comes from Tenleytown. Stop playing games with the public! It certainly has not changed my shopping habits but it has made me argue with the idiots in the check out line who want to cram all of my groceries into one bag, assuming that I won’t spring for a nickel to keep my bread and eggs from being crushed by a six pack of beer. I hope Vince Gray repeals this stupid tax.

  4. The bag tax simply means I continue doing what I was doing before, bringing my bags with me. I usually carry a messenger bag on the way to work anyway, so I just try to keep a cloth shopping bag tucked inside in case I remember those few things I need to pick up on the way home. Sure, there are times when I forget my bag, but I just pay the nickel and use the plastic bag to line my bathroom trash can at home.

    Despite the whinging from those who don’t live in the District and die-hard libertarians, I think the bag tax has been an overall positive, both in the money raised for the river cleanup efforts and the overall reduction in plastic bags used in the city.

  5. Pre bag tax, I tried to remember a reusable bag anyway, not specifically for environmental reasons (since we re-use plastic bags around the house), but simply because reusable bags are a superior grocery transport experience- you can fit more in them, usually the straps fit over my shoulders instead of stretching and cutting into my hands, and reduces the number of trips I have to take back to the car to carry stuff in. Since for some reason I am neurotic about not having to walk from my front door to my car again once I’m home. (Don’t judge; I know I’m not the only one.)

  6. The Bag Tax has been an utter failure. It’s purpose was to generate revenue to assist in cleaning the Anacostia River. Revenues generated have been miniscule. Therefore, there will be little to no funds available for cleaning the Anacostia. However, the Bag Tax rolls on. Fenty already tried to reroute that revenue. It won’t take long for that to be tried again. Mark my words.

  7. @Phooey Um…the purpose of the bag tax was to reduce pollution by reducing the number of plastic bags used in DC. The $0.05 goes to clean trash like plastic bags out of the Anacostia. If there are fewer plastic bags used than anticipated, that means the tax is actually a resounding success, since it’s better to prevent pollution in the first place than it is to raise more money to clean pollution out of the river.

    So, yeah.

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  10. I have not yet had to pay the tax. I now go to Maryland or Virginia for all grocery shopping to avoid this tax. When I do want some takeout at a local DC business, I buy less (i.e. skip the french fries) so that it is easier to carry the sandwich, for example, without a bag. I know I am hurting DC businesses but I’m going to leave it up to them to speak out against this unjust tax before it runs them out of business.

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