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Plastic Bags Used in DC Drops From 22 Million to 3 Million a Month

by Brian Merchant, Brooklyn, New York on 03.31.10

Photo via 2nd Green Revolution

The Most Effective Tax Ever?
Washington DC’s 5 cent tax on plastic bags, instated just this past January, has already proven to have a phenomenal impact: the number of plastic bags handed out by supermarkets and other establishments dropped from the 2009 monthly average of 22.5 million to just 3 million in January. While significantly reducing plastic waste, the tax simultaneously generated $150,000 in revenue, which will be used to clean up the Anacostia River.

The Washington Post reports:

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), sponsor of the bag tax bill, said the new figures show that city residents are adapting to the law far more quickly than he or other city officials had expected.The tax, one of the first of its kind in the nation, is designed to change consumer behavior and limit pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Under regulations created by the D.C. Department of the Environment, bakeries, delicatessens, grocery stores, drugstores, convenience stores, department stores and any other “business that sells food items” must charge the tax on paper or plastic bags.

I love this–I really do. A simple 5 cent tax–with revenues going towards an environmental cause voters rallied around–and consumer behavior is changed for the better in a truly big way. I love that 5 cents, which makes up a tiny percentage of total cost of your purchase even if you were just buying a bag of chips and a beverage, was enough to make consumers reconsider taking a plastic bag.

We’re going to have to wait to see if this trend continues, of course, but the results are nothing short of stunning so far–there are 19 million less plastic bags in a landfill because of this tax.

Let’s hope other municipalities–and dare I suggest, states?–are paying attention.


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