Dear PoP – DC’s Bag Fee: One Year Later

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoP,

DC’s disposable bag fee is just over a year old now. While the program had a successful start, I’m starting to notice more and more retailers sliding back to pre-bag fee days. In the Columbia Heights neighborhood, all the large chains seem to have forgotten about this law already–Target, CVS, Giant–and so have many smaller establishments. Does the city audit this program, or does it rely solely on consumer reports/complaints? (There is an online tip form here)

So I found out a little more from someone at DDOE. They do perform inspections of businesses required to follow the regulations of the District Bag Law and use the tip line to help prioritize inspections. It seems they too have noticed that many businesses are not consistently charging customers the $.05 fee per bag.

I’d like to find out of others have experienced this same change in compliance by retailers. If it’s just a few stores here and there, I think the tip form could work to get things back on track. On the other hand, if it’s a city-wide problem, perhaps a reminder campaign is in order.”

And on the flip side another reader sent in a link to a Facebook page called Kill The Bag Tax that has over 9,000 fans. Though it’s not clear how many are DC residents.

But to the original reader’s question – whenever I go to the Giant in Columbia Heights they comply. And the same goes for my experiences at Target. Have others noticed the fee not being implemented?

We talked about fast food stores and the fee/tax here.

78 Comment

  • The Giant at 8th and P streets typically dosen’t care nor does pretty much any liquor store.

    • NO ONE can comment on that page (Facebook page called Kill The Bag Tax) unless you LIKE it and there are plenty of people who have LIKEd it and made comments contrary (against the use of bags) to liking.
      “another reader sent in a link to a Facebook page called Kill The Bag Tax that has over 9,000 fans. Though it’s not clear how many are DC residents.”

  • The crap Safeway on Georgia Ave. has always charged the fee whenever I’ve stopped by.

    • Yes! I think this is an endemic Subway issue, probably because the “sandwich artists” are trained to finish the process by bagging the product with napkins. I go to a different store, and I finally started asking them not to bag my sandwich, with which they complied. Still, every time, I get the five-cent tax charged to me. As I’m only there at lunch rush, I’ve never taken the time to complain and delay the 20 people behind me, but it really has made me like Subway that much less.

  • Ive never experienced a situation where the store doesnt enforce it. Since they get a cut, they’re incentived to obey the law.

  • Can we stop this blood libel against the bag tax?

  • On the contrary they almost never give the 5 cent credit for using reusable shopping bags.

    • Is there a law requiring stores to give a 5 cent credit for those using reusable bags?

      • No, they don’t have to give a credit. But if they do have a policy of giving a credit, then they get to keep more of the 5 cents they charge to people needing bags.

      • Ah, I see. I was pretty sure there wasn’t a law requiring it, but I wasn’t aware that they got to keep more of the 5 cents if they gave a credit. Thanks for the info!

  • Target always charges me for bags if I need one.

  • I think the person maybe noticed that they don’t TELL you they are taxing you 5 cents as everyone is aware now. I haven’t noticed any slacking and the program is great. those 9000 whiners on facebook can go blow. If anything we need more taxes like this.

    • Utopia is just one more tax increase away!

      • I realize you’re are most likely being sarcastic, but in this case, yes. This tax is capitalism at its finest. Pay for what you use/abuse (i.e. the anacostia river).

        • “I realize you’re are most likely being sarcastic”

          Yep. FYI: the tax isn’t capitalism, it’s statism.

          Also: kinda ironic that DC won’t pick up the trash UNLESS it’s in plastic trash bags, but the Green Police don’t seem to have noticed that yet.

  • Also. WHOA. a quick glance at the comments on that facebook wall will certainly reveal they aren’t from around here… Yikes.

  • The only places I’ve noticed not charging the bag tax are a few small businesses and a couple of chain restaurants (Chop’t, Chipotle, Five Guys). I’m always charged the bag fee at CVS, Rite Aid, Harris Teeter, Target, etc.

    • I thought take out was exempt?

      • Dave rudely explained it below, but I guess take out is only exempt in the case of restaurants that use paper bags. I was confused because California Tortilla, Subway, and a couple of delis I go to still charge the bag tax, but they use plastic bags, so that seems to be the difference!

    • Chipotle and Five Guys aren’t cheating. Restaurants with sit-down seating do not have to charge for paper bags.

      The more you know.

  • Yeah, I’ve been charged every time, except once at a liquor store and that was after he asked me if I wanted a bag and I said no, then changed my mind as I was juggling my goods out of the store.

  • the Giant on Park charged me .05 ONLY even though i used about 10 bags on my last trip.

  • My major complaint with the tax is in regards to self checkouts. The Harris Teeter asks me if I used my own reusable bags to credit me the .05. The Safeway, on the other hand, does not. If providing the credit is part of the law than that aspect of it needs to be enforced just as if the stores fail to charge you.

    Also, the self checkouts don’t seem to be equipped for you to provide your own bags. You try and set one up and bag as you scan and it sets some sensor off. As a result you have to wait unitl the end and you end up holding up the line.

    • Providing the credit is not part of the law, it’s something that individual stores do.

      • Thanks for the clarification, I was not aware.

        But if a store offers it at the regular check out than they should also honor it at the self checkout as well.

    • Harris Teeter has a touch screen option – a small green button that says “my bag” – you select that before you start checking out, and it lets you put your reusable bag on there and doesn’t count it towards the weight

  • My biggest beef is when they don’t ask you if you want a bag, but automatically put your stuff in one and charge you. Happens all the time at the Chinese restaurants on 12th NE.

  • I find that we do more shipping in Maryland. We don’t go to Maryland to shop, we just happen to be in Maryland, and wind up shopping. So my overflowing plastic bag caddy is filled with Maryland bags. That and bags from farmer’s markets.
    At the CVS I plug in the 0 number of bags at the self check out. You have to put your bag on the floor. Try putting your bag on the sensor before your tick “english”.

  • For those that complain that they want free bags, be aware that they are never free. The real cost of complimentary plastic bags is this – less than 1 % are recycled. The other 99.4% either end up in landfills or in our waterways and oceans. “The UN estimates every sq. mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. Of the more than 200 billion pounds of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 % ends up in the ocean.” If that’s not troubling enough, all those chemicals in the plastics, like bisphenol A and phthalates (which have characteristics of estrogen and in high doses are associated w/ ‘feminizing boys’ and impotence in men) end up in the food-chain as they break down and are consumed by plankton and other marine life.

    If enforcing a 5 cent bag tax cuts the use of plastic bag by more than half, as it did in DC in the last year, I think its fair to say the benefits far outweigh the cost of bringing your own bag, paying the 5 cent/bag fee, (or using your pockets as I often do).

    In addition to the environmental and health benefits of the fee program, the reduction in use of plastic bags cuts the operational costs for retail stores and expenses for city clean up and removal efforts.

    All in all, it makes for sound, efficient public policy. But its only good if it continues to be enforced.

  • They should be banned – Bangledesh did a while ago.

  • I didn’t think that the bag tax law applied to liquor stores, as long as they weren’t selling food.

  • I was charged 5 cents from Macy’s at Metro Center for a large paper handle bag. I thought that was weird, but since the salesman barely spoke English, I wasn’t going to fight it for 5 cents.

    • saf

      They sell food.

      • But wouldn’t a paper bag just disintegrate in water? Paper bags aren’t polluting our rivers.

        • But the inks on them might, and the dioxins and bleaches that can be used creating paper for any white paper bags also often wind up downstream. However, most paper bags luckily are brown and have soy inks on them instead.

  • Whenever I shop in Maryland or VA I pull out money ready to pay for a bag, and then remember that thats why I only like to shop in MD or VA. Forget taxing bags, just raise the price of goods. This was brought to you by the same idiots who invented the soda tax (that even is applied to sugar-free drinks). You voted for the wrong people. Its all your fault. 😛

    • In what way does that help anything? The whole idea of the bag tax is to encourage people to reuse bags in the first place. You should probably read Nate’s comment at 1:09. He has eloquently written it way better than I ever could.

      • You’re worried about plastic bags? Do you have any idea how much plastic is in a Hundai?!? Or in a metro bus? Or in a cell phone? Lets get real here, charging 5 cents for a plastic bag is a ruse. It does nothing for the environment because the city does not hire people with that money to clean the streets up. The city removed a bunch of trash cans off of DC streets around 2004, this means that plastic bags get thrown away on the street, then get washed down storm drains. Trash collectors aren’t thorough, they leave scattered trash in our alley all the time. Street sweepers do little to clean up our streets, storm drains are rarely vacuumed. If this city really wants to have a clean environment, charging 5 cents is the laziest option you can choose, and its pretty damn opportunistic in a world where we already are taxed too high. a plastic bag isn’t even worth 5 cents. Nothing “free” about the land of america these days, capitalism, nationalism, religion, and self righteousnesses will end us all. Yeesh!

        • Look, the city already has to clean those bags out of the water so that you can have drinking water/shower water/cooking water, whathaveyou. So it makes sense to encourage less bag usage, and therefore less trash, and all that money goes directly to the cleanup fund. It is, in fact, a more direct allocation of taxes then we usually get to see. If you’d rather it go through the cheat system that is DC’s government, then ok, but I for one like when those causing a problem are the ones responsible for fixing it.

  • Ban the bag tax. It’s silly and isn’t really going to do much to clean up anything.

    • I have volunteered at Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens, clearing trash from the Anacostia (and tributaries). Since the bag tax was instituted the amount of trash (a lot was plastic bags) has substantially decreased.

  • I think what they should do it is keep rising the fee until nobody is using it then ban it outright.

  • All I know is that I don’t see as many plastic bags blowing around in the street or tangled up in the trees as I used to. I like the fact that just 5 cents makes people stop and do something to reduce the needless waste.

  • C A N V A S

  • I think the bag tax should be eliminated. There was no law saying you HAD to take the plastic bag. You were always free to bring your own. Why punish everyone else who was responsible by not littering with the bags?

    BTW: I have noticed an increase in dog poop. I think this is directly related to the fact that people are not taking bags home and are just letting their dogs run free when doing the business.

  • I don’t know if the bag tax was meant to keep bags floating down the Anacostia, but an incentive to not use something that is unnecessary. In its first year alone, the tax raised $2 million – I was impressed when I heard that figure.

    • I was in doubt when I heard that figure. Two million at a nickel apiece is – well – no idea, but seems like a lot.

  • *from floating

  • Another thing: The $.05 number really changed a lot of behaviors. I hope sociologists are watching, but I bet what we’re observing – excepting the real cranks above – is a lot of well-meaning, environmentally aware people who want to eliminate unnecessary consumption, but needed a small incentive at point-of-decision. We have found out that it’s only five cents. If plastic and glass bottles now get a 25-cent deposit fee, I’m sure that a significant number will play along. Good. Muriel Bowser, Phil Mendelson, are you ready for a bottle bill?

  • Wow – if “well-meaning, environmentally aware people who want to eliminate unnecessary consumption” really need a nickle for “a small incentive at point-of-decision.” We are in big trouble.

    • People are funny. Even infantesimal taxes have a profound affect on consumer/citizen behavior. This tax costs shoppers $5 – $10 per year. And yet, it’s drastically changed the way people act, and has a whole bunch of libertarian/Republican types up in arms — as if the tax is felt by them. It’s an atom in the bucket of their income.

      The only people who can have rational complaint against this tax are those in the lowest of low tax brackets — and yet, they’re the first to canvas-bag it, because of how this disproportionately affects them. Pretty much no one is negatively impacted by this tax, except in a purely psychological sense.

      Personally, I think it’s a weakness to be dependent on consumption of resources we don’t even produce. In all likelihood, these bags are from China or some other nation. Better that those extra nickels are spent here.

      • this makes no sense, almost everything from the computer you used to type that comment to the phone you use to talk to people are made in China or Korea. I dont think there is a cellphone out there today that is mad in the US.

        Compared to those industries, the plastic bag industry is just peanuts.

  • me

    What upsets me is when my husband and I order delivery from a Chinese restaurant down the road, it arrives triple-bagged- 2 plastic bags and one paper bag. Which they charge a total of $.15 for. But we only order one fried rice and one sweet/sour chicken. We’ve requested that they don’t give us so many bags when we order, but they don’t.

  • I wish this was a national law!

  • If people just quit throwing bags out the window, there would be no need for any tax. !!

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