Sunday, January 3, 2010

Washington, D.C. shoppers face nation's first fee for using plastic bags

A first-of-its-kind law is hitting Washington shoppers, who must pay 5 cents for every plastic or paper disposable bag they use when buying food or alcohol.

Washington passed the first-of-its-kind law in the USA to charge shoppers for disposable plastic and paper bags as a way to cut back on trash and clean up the Anacostia River.
CAPTIONhandoutMost of the money raised from the new law, which passed the D.C. Council unanimously in June and took effect New Year's Day, will go toward cleaning up the city's Anacostia River. City research has found plastic bags are a major source of the river's trash.

"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," said Mayor Adrian Fenty in announcing the "Skip the Bag, Save the River" initiative. The city and stores are kicking it off by handing out free reusable bags.

Bag-fee proposals have been popping up elsewhere in the USA, but Washington says it's the first to pass one. They've been introduced in state Legislatures in California, Maryland and Virginia.

In February, Colorado's state Legislature rejected a proposed bill that would have charged shoppers 6 cents per plastic bag used, according to the Denver Daily News. In August, Seattle voters rejected by a wide ratio (58% to 42%) a 20-cent grocery bag fee. (More info on the effort is available here.) In New York City, Mayor Mike Bloomberg sought a 5-cent-a-bag fee last year but, facing opposition, backed down.

San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi hands out canvas shopping bags in San Francisco, which became the first city in the USA in 2007 to ban plastic shopping bags. It required large supermarkets and pharmacies in the city to replace non-biodegradable plastic bags with reusable or recyclable bags.
CAPTIONBy Ben Margot, APYet some plastic bag restrictions have passed. In 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban the use of disposable plastic bags in large supermarkets and pharmacies. In July, North Carolina approved a bill to ban single-use plastic and non-recyclable bags in the Outer Banks counties of Hyde, Currituck and Dare. The ban took effect in September. ( Here's a description of Bill 1018.)

How has the fee gone over in the nation's capital?

"It's stupid," Daniel Dyson, 22, a clerk for the U.S. Marshals Service, told The Washington Post. "I don't want to pay for bags. It's too much." The newspaper got reaction from a few other shoppers:

"They got to raise money some kind of way, and people will change their habits and that's a good thing," said Orlan Sharpe, 50, a construction worker shopping Friday at the Giant in Columbia Heights.

Paige Sharpe, 34, a lawyer who was shopping later Friday at the same Giant, said she has been using reusable shopping bags for about two years but opposes the measure. "I think it's ridiculous," she said. "I don't think you should force people to pay a tax to go to the grocery store, especially in this economy."

Readers: What do you think of Washington's unprecedented 5-cents-a-bag fee?

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