“eighty percent of District residents have reduced their disposable bag use”

by Prince Of Petworth January 7, 2014 at 12:25 pm 26 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

From a press release:

“Today, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) released the results of recent surveys measuring opinions about the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act of 2009 (the Bag Law) and its impact on disposable bag use among residents, businesses, and bag distributors in the District.

According to the surveys, which were conducted by an independent research firm and funded with fees collected under the Bag Law, eighty percent of District residents have reduced their disposable bag use. Among these, average District resident household use declined from 10 to 4 disposable bags per week. Reinforcing this finding, seventy-nine percent of businesses report that their customers are using fewer disposable bags, with a fifty percent median reduction in bags used.

The surveys also found that the majority of residents and businesses have accepted the Bag Law, with fifty-three percent of residents and sixty-three percent of businesses having strong support of it. Only sixteen percent of residents and 8% of businesses expressed concerns about the law, and the remaining residents and businesses have no feelings about it either way. Additionally, fifty percent of businesses reported saving money as a result of the Bag Law.

“This survey data confirms the significant progress the District is making toward reducing plastic bag litter and restoring health to the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and their tributaries,” said Keith A. Anderson, Director of DDOE. “I am pleased that the Bag Law has reduced disposable bag use and garnered public support, while also saving money for many businesses.”

Since January 1, 2010, businesses selling food or alcohol in the District are required to charge customers a five-cent fee for each disposable bag. The fee is intended to be an economic incentive to spur behavioral change. The goal is to reduce a common source of litter (plastic bags) in District waterways by reducing the amount of disposable bags that people use.

Among the other findings, two-thirds of residents and businesses reported that they now see fewer bags as litter around their neighborhoods and properties. The reduction in plastic bag litter is benefitting all parts of the District with significant reductions (greater than sixty percent) across all eight wards.

The surveys were developed and conducted by Opinion Works, in partnership with the Alice Ferguson Foundation and the Anacostia Watershed Society. DDOE provided a grant for the project, funded by fees collected under the Bag Law. For more information on the District’s litter and trash reduction efforts and the District’s Bag Law, visit http://ddoe.dc.gov/bags.”

  • wylie coyote

    Good news.

    Maybe the Anacostia will be safe to swim in while I’m still alive.

  • Anonymous

    It’s so great when a newfangled policy idea proves to actually work.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure if my use of disposable bags has gone down, but my guilt about using them has increased by at least 80%

  • Anonymous

    This is a great thing, now all of the glorious plastic items and toxic trash in my alley can be free to roam around in the wind because my neighbors are too cheap to buy trash bags, which still also pollute the environment! Yeah! High 5 council members!

    • Smilla

      Are you seriously blaming the city council for the mess in your alley, instead of the actual litterers?

      • Anonymous

        You can’t give a trash can a ticket for rolling over in the wind, they don’t pay the fine. A plastic bottle in my alley is just as bad as 20 plastic supermarket bags floating in the wind. Laws like the bag tax are a total waste of time for the money that they generate. Lawmakers should focus on improving trash cleanup, recycling services, and street/alley sweeping as a better allocation of our tax dollars because those efforts are sorely underserved in DC right now.

        • Smilla

          “A plastic bottle in my alley is just as bad as 20 plastic supermarket bags floating in the wind.” tells me everything I need to know about your mindset.

        • David G.

          I assume that prior to the bag tax your alley was litter free as all trash was neatly contained within the small, plastic grocery bags that your neighbors brought home from the store. I also assume that your neighbors are now diligently bringing reusable bags when they grocery shop, or that they are carrying loose items home. Otherwise, they would still have the plastic grocery bags to put their litter in so that it would not blow around in your alley.

    • JT

      It’s easy to criticize other people’s efforts to make their community better. How do you propose to reduce littering in your neighborhood? What alternatives are you developing to plastic trash bags?

    • Anonymous

      That’s a problem with your neighbors, not with the city council. It’s not the fault of the bag tax that your neighbors are dicks. Your anger is misdirected.

      • Anonymous

        Who says it’s anger? It’s more like calling out gov. policy B.S. There’s nothing more to it than lazy politicians with a money making scheme, and this scheme barely makes the city any money. The overall culture shift against littering is what changed the state of the Annacostia river, not a poorly thought out 5 cent bag tax. Lets all get real here.

        • textdoc

          “Culture shift against littering”?? There’s still way too much littering in D.C. Fortunately, thanks to the bag tax, plastic bags now make up a much smaller proportion of the litter.
          I wasn’t thrilled about the bag tax when it started, but I think it’s been a good thing. I’d like for there to also be a deposit system for aluminum, glass, and plastic to encourage people to take those items back to the store rather than throw them on the sidewalk, in the gutter, etc.

        • ARD

          It’s definitely making money. As of July 2012, the bag fee had generated nearly $5 million (http://www.wtop.com/41/3062667/Officials-rejoice-over-low-5-cent-bag-fee-revenue) and has continued to generate money since. This money is used to not only for education in schools and in the communities but also for installing and maintaining infrastructure such as trash traps (http://green.dc.gov/service/anacostia-river-clean-and-protection-fund). In addition, if you are a resident of DC you can also take advantage of the revenue generated by rebates from the RiverSmart Homes program which assists folks in installing green roofs, rain barrels, rain gardens, permeable pavers, etc. All of this contributes to the health of the Anacostia watershed and its communities and the District as a whole. A win-win!

    • urbanengineer

      Your stupid rant brings up a good point. For those of you who never bought trash bags and only re-used plastic grocery bags (which I’m assuming is what your neighbors did, or else your rant makes zero sense), how is this beneficial to the environment? Instead of bagging your trash in a re-used plastic grocery bags, what are you bagging it in that’s better? I tend to re-use every single plastic bag that comes in any of the products that I buy for my trash bags. But generally speaking, no matter how we dispose of it, it won’t be eco-friendly because garbage itself is not eco-friendly, so our best bet is to reduce our waste as a whole, which can be done through composting and recycling and buying products with minimal packaging.

      • +

        Thanks for basically reiterating my “stupid” rant…

        • urbanengineer

          I called your rant stupid because I thought blaming your neighbors litter on the bag tax was stupid. The litter is caused by your neighbors, not the bag tax.

      • Anonymous

        I didn’t even know the trash collectors would take little plastic bags full of trash. Seems like a lot of extra work for them to reach way down into the can to pull them out.

  • Anonymous

    20% still selfish aholes

    • Anonymous

      or tourists

  • jcm

    It’s been a highly effective policy in my experience. That little fee totally changed my behavior. I never used to use reusable shopping bags, now I always do.

    • Anonymous

      I was living in VA and using resuable bags when the law went into effect, so it didn’t change my behavior, but it made things easier once I moved back to DC. In VA using reusable bags is an awkward experience because the cashier assumes you don’t have any and starts shoving things in plastic bags. Here in DC it’s the first thing they ask, so you don’t have to announce it.

    • Anonymous

      me too. i thought it would be annoying, but the effect of the bag tax was to serve as a reminder that I ought to use reusable bags. I do that now and it’s really no problem at all. for me it had nothing to do with the money (five cents? BFD) and everything about making me mindful.

  • AE

    The fact that DC didn’t make a windfall on the bag tax can be viewed as a positive outcome. Many people bring their own bags therefore don’t pay five cents per bag therefore the DC government hasn’t made much money. But the benefit is the overall decrease in use of plastic bags. My experience is there is a big difference between shopping at a grocery store in the DC (w/bag tax) vs suburbs (w/no bag tax). DC store – most bring their own bags, suburbs (w/out bag tax) – very few bring their own bags.

  • ryan2499

    I’ll raise my hand, I usually am happy to pay the 5 cents per bag and continue to use plastic for grocery shopping. If I’m going down to the corner store, I grab a re-usable bag, but going grocery shopping for a family of four combined with a bad memory to actually place bags into the back of the car so they are actually there to use, it’s just easier for me to pay 50 cents to a dollar for convenience that (supposedly) supports river cleanup. But I also don’t litter with the bags, we actually keep them at home and use them for all sorts of stuff, so there’s that. If you catch me littering with a plastic grocery bag I wholeheartedly give you permission to flog me with it.

    • kyle-w

      Terrific. Sounds like it has worked out well. It has convinced you to use reusable sometimes, and the other times you pay a (very) nominal fee.

      We try and use reusable whenever I can. The biggest struggle is Subway. They are still trained to bag every sandwich, so you have to be very clear to avoid it being bagged!

  • Hello!

    I really like that this has changed the “default” here to ask. I tried to be conscientious before, but my behavior has really improved since the bag tax. I sometimes have/remember me reusable bag, or just carry or throw a couple items in my purse. Other times, I figure I’m paying 5 cents (that’s going to a good cause) for a liner for my kitchen trash can. When I went home out of state for Christmas, it just blew my mind that the drug store would automatically throw, say, one package of allergy medicine in a bag w/o asking. Much prefer it here in DC, and very much support the bag tax which brought about this shift.


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