One of the less discussed alternatives to plastic bag bans is providing disposable bags as a taxed good. In Washington D.C., the first U.S. city to enforce a bag tax, the revenue generated has approached $1 million in the first six months, according to ABC News.
This past January, every D.C. retailer and restaurant that “sells food items” was required to charge a 5 cent fee per paper or plastic bag.
The tax was expected to generate $10 million over the next four years, meaning it is currently behind projections – the total was $942,000 through May.
So, what happens to all the money raised? One cent goes to the retailer, or 2 cents if it offers a rebate for bringing your own bag.
The remainder is going to the Anacostia River Cleanup Fund, which will use it for public education campaigns on the affect of trash in the nation’s capital, as well as for monitoring water pollution, funding cleanup events and providing reusable bags to District residents so they have an alternative to disposables. It’s estimated that 20 percent of the trash in the Anacostia River is plastic bags.
In addition to the financial impact, the city has dramatically cut the amount of bags in distribution. The D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue estimates the amount of bags given out has been reduced from 22.5 million per month in 2009 to 3 million in January 2010.
The bag tax has raised some issues though with consumers who don’t want to pay the fee. At least one D.C. Safeway store had to remove its plastic bag recycling bins after customers were found stealing bags to avoid the fee. Others have opted to carry groceries by hand when they forget to bring a reusable bag.
Grocery stores are one of the primary outlets for plastic bag recycling. Most D.C. residents are also able to recycle plastic bags in the city’s curbside recycling program.