01 January 2010

Great Way to Start off the Year, Washington DC!

D.C. First to Impose Fee to Use Disposable Plastic, Paper Bags

Washington, D.C. Consumers Forced to Go Green or Pay 5 Cents Per Bag

District of Columbia becomes to impose a surcharge on disposable paper and plastic bags

A man leaves with a bag of groceries in a plastic bag made of recyclable material at the Nature Shop on this file photo in San Francisco, California. Starting today, the District of Columbia becomes the first in the nation to impose a surcharge on disposable paper and plastic bags commonly used at grocery and retail stores everywhere.
(David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Residents and visitors to the nation's capital are about to find new meaning in what it means to "go green." Customers who tote their food or liquor purchases home in the ubiquitous bags will now be required to pay 5 cents for each one they use. The fees will go to a fund for cleaning up the city's Anacostia River. Starting today, the District of Columbia becomes the first major city in the nation to impose a surcharge on disposable paper and plastic bags commonly used at grocery and retail stores everywhere.

"I signed this law in July to cut down on the disposable bags that foul our waterways," D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said last month. "We want everyone to know that you can save the river, and 5 cents, if you bring your own reusable bag to the store instead."

Many retailers are expected to offer a credit to customers who bring their own bags. Grocer Whole Foods, for example, already gives shoppers a nickel for each bag they bring in and has discontinued use of plastic bags.

While the District's bag tax law is the first of its kind, other states and municipalities have imposed outright bans on plastic bags or mandated that retailers collect them for recycling.

San Francisco, Calif., became the first U.S. city to impose an outright ban on plastic bags in 2007, and Oakland and Malibu soon followed suit. In June 2009, the North Carolina legislature banned their use in the Outer Banks.

China banned plastic bags in January 2008 and Bangladesh has outlawed them since 2002, which might come as a surprise, given that neither country is known for its progressive environmental policies.



  1. Feliz 2010!

    Great for DC! The tax money collected from disposable bags should not be earmarked for any other reason except for environmental clean up. This indeed is a good way to reduce the numbers of plastic bags going wasted. I still like the San Francisco and Mexico City model better that they completely banned them. That's what I want to see in Buffalo but although we could use the tax money collected for the environmental clean up like with DC.

  2. I own several tote bags for grocery shopping. My favorite folds up into a small one by two square that I tuck into my purse for unplanned shopping trips. What I like best about using my own totes is they hold more groceries than the stupid, flimsy plastic bags that grocery stores use. Totes don't break or fall over in a car.

  3. anthony, i have to agree with you - banning plastic bags definitely better for earth than charging 5 cents per plastic bag which will end up going to cleaning up discarded plastic bags anyway... catch 22 huh.

    i also remember a presentation about "psychology" of going green. if you're charged MONEY, then it's easy for people to go all gung ho and remember their cloth bags. if you BAN it, then people will gripe and try to find ways around it (remember the prohibition...).

    kim, agreed! i have my favorite bag with long thin straps that i can easily just put on my shoulder and carry a HEAVY load e.g. milk cartons, spaghetti sauce jars, etc... i can't imagine doing that with plastic bags or paper bags. i don't understand why people choose to use plastic/paper. i'm SO spoiled by my favorite grocery shopping bags :)

  4. It is definitely a Catch-22.

    Here are the argumentative points I'm formulating in my head after reading this thought provoking article.

    It did make me wonder what would happen next if United States banned disposable bags everywhere. Would the disposable companies come up with some things that are also bad for the environment?

    Also, with the tax idea, I am curious about how much impact it will have on grocery consumers. To be honest, I think five cents per bag is relatively affordable. If a person takes 20 plastic bags, that's one dollar, if 60 bags, that's $3.00 and so on.

    With the recyclable soda and beer cans, a lot of people are still tossing them out in trash cans or instead of recycling them or returning them to the store to get their nickels back. That's good we're collecting extra money for the environmental clean up and recycling factories but how far does this go in reducing the environmental impacts from negligent human behaviors.

    I think we should charge .25 cents per bag to begin with. That would be a stronger shock value on the pockets of consumers. In the meantime, I think we should keep an eye out on San Francisco and Mexico City to see if the ban on disposable bags are working. Like Raychelle said, when the city or federal government prohibit something, people will find a way around it. Only time will tell.

    And by the way, I carry my chic bag with me in my jacket or in my backpack and clothes bag at home and in the trunk of my car for immediate grocery shopping. However, there are days when I completely forgot to bring it with me because I left them at home after my last round of grocery shopping and in this case, I would not mind at all to throw in several cents, either five or 25 cents per bag, for environmental clean ups.

    One day I, too, hope the mass will change their habit by going greener to minimize the use of disposable bags everywhere around the globe.

    Thank you, EcoDeaf, for dropping greener thoughts in our head. Namaste.

  5. I noticed that the newspaper articles did not mention the option of using reuseable bags instead of shelling out money for disposable bags. I found that odd and only promotes the argument "oh people can't afford to pay for bags" instead of offering real alternatives. Weird.

    IKEA started charging like 5 or 10 cents per bag, and the impact on the shoppers were huge. People clip coupons for this kind of money, and people in general are relctuant to part with money, be it for as little as 5 cents for something that they don't really need. Another newspaper article discussed about how the concept of requiring stores to put recycle bins outside stores for plastic bags were difficult for many lawmakers only a few years ago in CA, but now they are willing to consider a tax. Next is probably banning them altogether, but that would probably take some time for the concept of reuseable bags to sink in. The fact that the newspaper article did not mention reuseable bags at all tells us a lot about how far we have come, and how far we need to go.

  6. anon,

    true, good point... i picked that article to post here (maybe a freudian slip on my part? hmm. ha)... however there are other articles about the new Wash DC plastic bag fee that mention reusable bags. here they are:

    USA TODAY: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2010/01/washington-dcs-new-law-charges-5-cents-for-each-paper-plastic-bag/1

    WASHINGTON POST: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/29/AR2009122902885.html

    FOX NEWS: http://www.myfoxdc.com/dpp/news/local/dc-bag-tax-takes-effect-january-1-122909

    NBC NEWS: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/green/DC-Girl-Scouts-Distribute-Reusable-Shopping-Bags-80267402.html

    DCIST: http://dcist.com/2009/11/dc_starts_education_campaign_in_adv.php


    I got all these links off DC Department of the Environment facebook page. A cool group to join ;)


    (Sorry for not creating hyperlinks here... )

  7. I wonder about the rest of the world? For instance, is Sweden doing the same thing? Anyone know?

  8. veronica, the article included references to china and bangladesh. i took the liberty of googling sweden and plastic bags for you. they started charging for plastic bags in the 1970's but the policy doesn't seem to be working too well there. u can read the rest here:


  9. Raychelle,
    Thanks for the point-out about China and Bangladesh. Looks like I overlooked the last paragrapgh! Oops. Also, thanks for the help about Sweden. I should have googled it myself, duh me. :)

  10. not a problem. your question was intriguing and i thought i'd find out :) but interesting how the .22 cents per bag policy in sweden isn't working too well, and they're still churning out millions of plastic bags a year. guess the no-plastic bag policy is best.... hmm hmm.

  11. Interesting finding!

    .22 cents = Catch 22 ?

    I think it depends on the social, cultural, and individual attitudes toward money and environmental concerns such as with disposable bags in different regions. Maybe tax imposed on disposable bags will work in one country while it will not at all in another country. Conscientious spenders will bring their own cloth bags to save themselves some money. People who live by the principle of sustainable living will bring their cloth bags. Either reason is the win-win situation for saving money and the planet.

  12. Empty tissue boxes can provide easy and handy storage for plastic grocery bags.