Not a Plastic Bag …


On 1st January 2010 a “bag tax” was introduced in DC ostensibly to be used to clean up the Anacostia River; what many refer to as “DC’s forgotten river”  (many of you will have heard of the Potomac though!).  From that day forward if you needed a store-provided bag to carry your goodies away 5-cents would be added to your bill.  The law also requires that any carryout bags provided, at 5-cents,  by the retailers must be made of 40% post-consumer content and plastic bags can only be made from the recyclable #2 or #4 plastic types.

Well, last month figures were released showing this bag tax netted $2 million for 2010!

Apparently that equals 55 million bags which is still a lot of plastic blowing or floating around but a big drop from the 2009 estimate of bags provided (free) by retailers in the District of  270 million bags!

The Director of the District Department of the Environment, Christophe A.G. Tulou,  was quoted as saying:  “In a town where we talk about trillions of dollars all the time it’s amazing the power a nickel has.”    His Department is charged with spending the bag money to benefit the Anacostia River.

A report in 2008 found that plastic bags made up half of the rubbish floating around in the river.    In 2010 an environmental group doing their annual river cleanup found only a third of the number of bags of the previous year.

In 2007 San Francisco became the first US city to ban plastic bags;  DC was the first US city to enforce a bag tax.

So…   where have all the nickels gone?    DC’s Department of Environment says $228,000 was spent on community outreach programs and providing free reusable bags to residents.  One cent from each 5c charged goes to the retailer or 2 cents if they offer a rebate for bringing your own bag.  The remainder goes to the Anacostia River Cleanup Fund which will monitor water pollution, fund cleanup events and provide continuing public education on the affect of trash in the capital’s waterways.

City Officials originally predicted $3.5 million would be raised so we’re a little behind that figure – but perhaps that shows we are all either carrying around recyclable bags or balancing goods in our hands (been there; done that when I’ve forgotten my bag!).   Apparently one Safeway store had to remove their plastic bag recycling bins after they found customers “stealing”  bags from them to avoid the fee!

Any store that sells food or alcohol must charge the 5 cent fee.  I did not realize “food”  meant chocolates at the registers until I purchased some undies at Macy’s and they asked me if I wanted a bag and then charged me when I said yes!   I recently asked a cashier at Macy’s if she had many complaints over the bag fee from people buying clothes.  She told me that tourists get really upset when they are charged as they don’t “know the law” .

I have a couple of the ChicoBags in my handbag now for those “just incase moments”   but for times when I know I’m going shopping I have this fabulous bag I bought in Sydney on my last trip to Australia.  It’s sturdy, strong and slings over my shoulder – and any new undies and clothes get to ride home in style: 


33 responses

  1. wait…you wear chocolate undies? 😉

    This shows you just how far the US is behind Europe. I went to Germany in 1984–almost 27 years ago–and they charged a few pfennigs per plastic bag. WE WERE APPALLED, we 15 year old Americans. But many people carried around reusable shopping bags, and who knows how long before 1984 that started.

    Anyway, that is pretty amazing info and stats you posted there. Hopefully it catches on in other big cities.

    • LOL yes sometimes even us Germans can be progressive. There was once a time when there was a try-out on plastic packaging could be left at grocery stores or stores in general. The stores had to provide containers and had to remove it too. To force the industry to use less packaging. So people could go with their Tupperware to the grocery stores and hand it over to person behind the counter asking them to put cheeses or meat into them directly. One of our grocery stores had even what they called an “electric cow” – a huge container where you could use glass bottles and refill them instead of buying new.
      That unfortunately didn’t last very long. I guess some health department got in the way, and people’s laziness took over again after a while.
      But bags still cost.

    • Those were the days. “Jute statt Plastik” = “rather burlap than plastic” we said once. Now we pay bottle deposit for one way bottles, get the deposit back at the supermarket where the bottles will be collected, then shipped around the world so that t-shirts can be produced cheaper than in high developed industrial areas.
      “Environmentalism 2.0”
      a german 😉

  2. That is a fantastic idea! In California last year there was a voter’s referendum to ban plastic shopping bags, but the chemical/plastics industry bombarded the airwaves with commercials saying the state would lose jobs if plastic bags were banned, and old people wouldn’t be able to carry their groceries home if they couldn’t have their free plastic bags. That last one made me laugh because our house is flooded with bags that my parents keep bringing back from the store. I’ve tried bringing them back to the store for recycling, but it’s like bailing out a tidal flood with a soup can. Oddly, my parents have several reusable fabric bags they bought at Costco, which doesn’t supply shoppers with bags. They always forget them however, so I started bringing them with me to the grocery store. I don’t think the baggers like it, however. They always give me a blank stare, like “What do you want us to do with these things?”

    But yeah, like cranky said: you bought chocolate undies at Macy’s? The manservant must have had fun that night! 😉

  3. Bag tax? I had no idea. And look at all the money it brought in. Wouldn’t it be nice if the government used at least a little bit of its tax money to pay down the national debt instead of finding more ways to spend billions.

  4. Where I live, you can still get all the plastic bags you want, but the stores give you a few cents if you bring your own (cloth or paper) and always ask if you need a bag, which I turn down if possible. I’ve got to get a batch of them back to the store recycling bin. Of course Trader Joe’s only has paper.

    We do use the plastic ones to get rid of the litter box contents. I hope they switch to charging for plastic bags soon, which I think they are — next January, San Jose will ban plastic grocery bags entirely (except for meat and gooey take-out food and such). Will keep them out of the Bay. That will be the largest city in the US to ban them. They’re also going to be charging for paper bags. $1000 fine for breaking the law.

  5. Very cool! I use my own permanent bags all the time. My plastic bag trove has diminished dramatically and I couldn’t be happier. Except for bathroom trash can liners or wrapping up spillable items that I ship, I have no use for them. That’s pretty great how successful the program is so far!

    • Fabulous! As of course, you are.
      We use the plastic wrapping the loo rolls come in, for our bathroom bin liners. It was Masha’s idea. I love that my husband is so green thinking. I also save any wrapping things I order online come in and reuse them. The big clear and thick bags the rugs I ordered came in very handy for waterproofing the rabbit runs over winter. The bunnies eat boxes…LOL. Then the poo goes into the compost. Then we grow veg…

      • When Jaypo sent me her old laptop, she sensibly reused the box and the paper left over from furniture she ordered for her bunny. My cats don’t eat boxes, but they do enjoy sitting in them so that’s a reuse of sorts!

        I am working hard to get Mr. LT to re-use plastic bags or not get them in the first place. Our pharmacy seems to get confused when they’re told we don’t need a bag, but the pet food store always asks and are quite enthusiastic when you bring your own.

        • LOL with the boxes – when I had two cats, one of them loved to nap in a boot box on the top of my desk that I kept the printer paper in. We love to make bunny play houses out of boxes, but they do end up eating them eventually.
          I remember that Jaypo sent you her laptop – what a great thing she did. : )
          I like that we help each other out on here. Sistas.

  6. Sams Club never has offered bags. They have bins of empty boxes which people use to stack their groceries, otherwise they have to carry or cart them out with no boxes or bags.

    One of the discount grocery stores has charged for their bags for years, but all other stores don’t. If they did, it would definitely get people in the habit of bringing their own bags.

  7. that’s a lot of money!! i’d go along with a law and/or fee just to get stores to stop double-bagging EVERYTHING. I don’t know why that started but nearly everywhere I go does it (assuming I forgot my reuseable bags) and I end up standing in the lot and removing all the extra bags.

  8. That’s fantastic. I hope this is going to be a general thing soon. I am appalled every time I am in the US and see how many bags there are used every time one goes to stores. Sometimes even 2 in grocery stores for heavy things.
    Here bags cost. And not very little. Unfortunately I still haven’t re-adjusted my brain to think and carry along my grocery bag no matter where I am going. Because I tend to do spontaneous shopping. In the meantime I calm my conscience with the fact that we still can use our bags as garbage bags too. So I don’t buy them on top of it all.
    But I think that will last until recycling starts for real here. Then I seriously have to plan. Maybe I am lucky and get away before it starts….? 😛

    • Yep! Food Lion is the worst in the US, that I ever encountered. If you bought bread, they would put one loaf in one bag. WHAT!

  9. Our spupermarkets have opted for the ‘don’t give out bags as standard, wait till people ask for them adn if they do, glare at them like they are personally responsible for the decline in wild dolphins’ method. I take all my own reuseable bags for the weekly shop and have a little fold up bag in the handbag for the unexpected purchase.

  10. That’s cool that it’s working.

    I must confess that I use my reusables til I need bin liners…then I go without, collect some plastic bags and use them for trash! I know it’s not the best thing but why BUY plastic bin liners…they’re all plastic and going into a dump.

    BTW, I recycle like a bitch and to do that, it requires an 80+mile trip for me, so…I’m doing that, too!

  11. That’s really interesting. I didn’t know that there was a law for that anywhere. It’s certainly a motivator to us lazy (me) people to buy some reusable shopping bags! It’s a good idea to have reusable, but people often just don’t get around to it because the plastic is so much easier. Now it costs them. XD

  12. A couple days’ worth of groceries is easily 2 or 3 bags – that’s 4 or 6, given that double-bagging is a given at the grocery store. Go into Walgreens to pick up a last-minute item? That’s a bag. Get Chinese delivered? Another bag. Seriously, you can easily rack up a dozen bags in half a day of errands!

    We really have gone too far with the disposable nature of our society.

    • I’m surprised at this widespread double-bagging. I’ve never lived anywhere where they double-bagged unless something was very very heavy. I’ve had to ask for double before.

  13. What a dilemma. If you help the environment by not using plastic bags, then you screw the Anaconda River Fund out of their funding…
    It’s the way of the future. It’s pointless to resist. I’ve got several re-usable bags – I throw them in the cooler when we down to the city for groceries.

  14. I use reusable bags for two and a half years. If you can have a look on my blog, you’ll see wonderfull images of the seabed … It’s so important to protect this paradise … We’ll dot it ! …
    Have a nice day my AussieEmjay. Many loves.

  15. I love the “I’m not a plastic bag” bag. It reminds me of the ones we bring to the beach, and it looks durable. Nice to see cities doing something. I think the goverment programs are just slightly off kilter. They are doing the right thing, but I think fees can make some people angry (as you mentioned) and the city should also require or at least encourage stores to give a discount for a reuseable. More if it’s a cotton or otherwise durable tote like your bag or chico. The 99 cent ones are bound to get tossed out or get too dirty to use. Great post.

  16. Several cities/states have the bag tax as I see it the entire country should enforce the bag tax. More are joining in and frankly just get rid of the plastic bags altogether, I have used canvas bags for several decades, actually back to the first Earth Day in 1970. There should also be a penalty fee given to the cashier that puts 2 or 3 items in a bag so you think you got more for the dollars you spent when really 10 items can fit in 1 to 2 bags easily enough. And my favorite question of all when I hand over my canvas bags for groceries “Do you want me to put the stuff in plastic bags first?” Duh kind of defeats the purpose.

  17. Wahooo! You KNOW I am a greenie so big kudos to the govt for doing something green. We ONLY use cloth bags in this house and have for 2 years and I started doing that back in the States. It always both annoyed me and amused me the reaction you get when shopping in NC and whipping out my cloth bag caused the person ringing me up to become frozen in confusion. Denmark has been charging people since the 80s (I lived there then) for plastic bags.
    Sea turtles die from eating them…loads of them end up in the ocean. The turtles think they are jellyfish.
    We give them out at work, which horrifies me. When I was boss at the last job, I orderd biodegradable ones, plus the volunteers who rang people up were instructed to ask people if they wanted a bag and tell them ours were biodegradable as a strong hint. Get your own bag, people!

  18. We got used to carrying our own bags around when we lived in Switzerland for that year. They sell a couple different kinds of carry bags. I like the big, big ones (cost around 3 dollar). They have two sets of reinforced handles – one set of longer ones, and another short and can carry the weight of 3 2-liter bottles. They last a really long time. We walked in Switzerland everywhere (we had no car) so this was useful. When we got back to NZ, we have continued using them. Here in Wellington, the grocery stores have started charging for bags as well. And, I expect, in most of NZ, in the bigger supermarket chains. I think it’s great. I use my Switzerland bags (whenever we go back to visit, I get more) and I love it! Glad the US is starting to do these things:)

  19. Change, is sometimes hard. I do not even remember when retails started to charge for the plastic. Today they also charge (and at a higher price) the paper bags in Sweden. I think it has to have been before 1996, because I studdied in Ireland at the time. And I got, which is strange since I was not an environmental idealist, was appalled by the use of plastic bags. Almost one item per bag. Unbelievable I say. But of course if you added more in one it would break since the quality was crap.

    Today I use mostly paper bags, and I do forget about them once in a while when I go shopping, and it darns me that I do have to pay 20 cents (euro) for a new one. But more since I do not need more bags our cupboard is almost drowning in paper bags.

    Therefore I try to keep some in the back of the car (since I will not do my weekly shopping by bike) when my memory slips me.

  20. Anything that reduces the use of plastic bags has to be good. Some stores here charge a 5 or 10c fee which provides sufficient incentive for people to bring their own reusable canvas bags……and as they only cost a dollar each at supermarkets there’s no excuse for not using them.

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