Greater Greater Washington

Sustainability


It's time for a statewide bag fee in Maryland

DC's 5¢ bag fee is now 2 years old, and it has unquestionably achieved its goals. Shoppers have overwhelmingly switched to using reusable bags to carry their purchases, and fewer plastic bags are polluting the Anacostia River. But we all live downstream of somewhere, and bags and other trash continue to come in from Maryland and tarnish DC's waters.


Photo from Trash Free Anacostia.

Montgomery County enacted its own bag fee last year, and Prince George's County wants to follow suit but needs state permission. Many in both counties recog­nize that disposable bags are outdated and need to be phased out to help our communities combat litter.

However, trash doesn't know political boundaries. It is now time for Maryland to step up and pass a state­wide bag fee. The General Assembly has considered the proposal twice before without success, but many good bills take a few tries before they pass.

While the political climate remains challenging, the tide is turning. Chestertown, on the Eastern Shore, banned plastic bags outright. Howard County and Baltimore City have also expressed interest in a bag fee.

As these ordinances vary from county to county, stores with multiple locations will have more difficulty complying with all the laws, and consumers will need to remember which jurisdiction they are shopping in. A consistent statewide approach will do the most to reduce litter and be better for both retailers and shoppers.

The Community Cleanup and Greening Act, sponsored this year by Senator Brian Frosh (District 16-Montgomery County) and Delegate Mary Washington (District 43-Baltimore City), will copy the Montgomery County law and enact a 5¢ fee on plastic and paper checkout bags at all stores throughout the state.

Retailers will keep 1¢ of the fee. The Department of Human Resources will use fee funds to purchase and distribute free reusable bags to all low-income residents via community service centers and faith and social service institutions. The state will split the remaining proceeds between the counties, to pay for water quality improvement projects, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which will give out grants to restore the environment.

Baltimore, in particular, will benefit from a serious approach to litter reduction. As with the Anacostia River, the EPA has declared the Baltimore Harbor "impaired" by trash under the Clean Water Act, and the city faces steep fines for violations. The city currently spends upwards of $10 million every year to clean up litter; taxpayers are already paying a lot, and that burden will only continue to increase.

"Litter brings down the quality of life for residents," said Halle Van der Gaag, Executive Director of Blue Water Baltimore. "It is not only visually ugly but contaminates our waterways. Preventing it in the first place is more sustainable in the long-term."

The Senate's Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee is holding a public hearing on SB511 on Tuesday at 1 pm; the House's Economic Matters Committee will hear HB1247 on Wednesday, March 14.

To show your support for the measure, send an email or find your representatives' phone numbers through the Surfrider Foundation. You can also participate in a Lobby Night next Monday, March 5, to go to Annapolis and meet with your legislators in person. RSVP by visiting www.mdlobbynight.com.

For more information about bag fees and the campaign supporting this legislation, visit the Trash Free Maryland Alliance.

Julie Lawson is an environmental activist and nonprofit marketing consultant in Washington, DC. A long-time volunteer with the Surfrider Foundation, she now manages trash policy for the Anacostia Watershed Society. With her husband Galen, she also owns Communication Visual, a social marketing and design studio. 

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Funny coincidence, I was just thinking about this topic over the weekend and wondering if/when NOVA or VA will enact a bag fee. Of course, with the VA legislature pushing things like the invasive ultrasounds, I suspect progressive legislation is way, way down their list of priorities. I can hope, right?

by Trashy Thing on Feb 27, 2012 10:41 am • linkreport

I like the idea of a bag fee but not a new tax. Why can't the 5 cents be split up this way -- 1 cent to retailer, 4 cents toward reducing the sales tax or some other form of middle class tax relief.

by Falls Church on Feb 27, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

Here, here!

Ban plastic bags and charge a fee for paper bags. This will greatly cut down on litter.

by ceefer66 on Feb 27, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

To clarify, I meant I like the idea of a bag fee but not new gov't spending. Obviously the bag fee is a tax regardless of whether there is an offsetting tax rebate.

by Falls Church on Feb 27, 2012 11:21 am • linkreport

"Shoppers have overwhelmingly switched to using reusable bags to carry their purchases, and fewer plastic bags are polluting the Anacostia River."

Is there a link for this? I thought the point was to raise money, not make people switch.

by Theo16 on Feb 27, 2012 11:41 am • linkreport

Thanks Julie

by Tina on Feb 27, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

Is there a link for this? I thought the point was to raise money, not make people switch.

The point was to raise money to clean up the Anacostia River, which is in part polluted by plastic bags-- so the bag tax serves the end-goal by two different means.

by JustMe on Feb 27, 2012 11:48 am • linkreport

@Theo16

You have it exactly backward.

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2011/09/bags-get-sacked/141/

by Adam L on Feb 27, 2012 11:50 am • linkreport

There was some useful information on the DC bag fee (such as why it's a fee, not a tax, and where the money goes) in the City Paper a couple of weeks ago: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/2012/01/31/two-years-without-plastic-bags/

by Christine on Feb 27, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

is there a more recent report on the number of bags used in DC and the trash in the river. Last i found was last year...

by charlie on Feb 27, 2012 11:58 am • linkreport

There is NO unquestionable success of these bag fee laws. We also seen from experts that re-usable bags have become carriers for Salmonella, roaches and other pests...of particular hard to children. All this is..is a tax...something thought to be a good idea...but not anything that can be quantified. The idea there are fewer plastic bags in the Anacostia River is somewhat laughable for anyone who has actually been down there. Maybe we should just go back to paper bags...it's not like the nation was in any peril over the last century as they were used.

by Pelham1861 on Feb 27, 2012 12:00 pm • linkreport

@charlie - this year is only two months old. How recent do you want if data from 2011 isn't recent enough?

by Tina on Feb 27, 2012 12:01 pm • linkreport

The bag fee WAS successful in my neighborhood (Eckington) until most of the retailers stopped charging it about 9 months ago.

Today the sidewalks are once again littered with bags. The problem for the most part isn't so much the large stores (i.e. Harris Teeter, Target, Subway, etc). They nearly always charge me. Based on personal experience, the small businesses, carry outs and liquor stores do not charge (even when I've asked to be charged they say they don't do that anymore).

If the administration were to enforce the laws already on the books, it would go a long way towards making my community more livable.

by Jeff on Feb 27, 2012 12:23 pm • linkreport

does mcdonalds have to charge 5 cents?

Does the post?

by charlie on Feb 27, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

I hate litter, but can't jump on the bag-tax bandwagon. Has anyone noticed how grocery stores are now reluctant to bag your groceries? Too often they just ring them up and leave them on the counter, waiting for me to put them in my re-usable bag, which is super-annoying. I'd rather let paper bags go tax-free, and clean the rivers with other funds (and go after polluters).

by Mystery, Inc on Feb 27, 2012 12:45 pm • linkreport

There was some useful information on the DC bag fee (such as why it's a fee, not a tax, and where the money goes) in the City Paper a couple of weeks ago:

Ummm...that link calls the bag fee a tax.

The Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act of 2009, or the "bag law," has been in effect for two years, but many D.C. shoppers don't like it or don't understand how it works. Here's a graphical look at the tax:

Regardless of whether it's a fee or a tax is just semantics. The bigger point is that this tax/fee shouldn't be an excuse to increase government spending. There's no reason why the fee/tax needs to lead to greater government spending. The fee/tax could easily be revenue neutral if packaged with an offsetting decrease in fees/taxes.

by Falls Church on Feb 27, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

Does anybody know how the pollution is going in the Potomac river regarding plastic bags? The author mentions pollution is down in Anacostia.

by Todd on Feb 27, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

The bigger point is that this tax/fee shouldn't be an excuse to increase government spending. There's no reason why the fee/tax needs to lead to greater government spending.

Unless you want the bag tax to be used to do something, like clean up the Anacostia or even, for that matter, close the deficits.

We also seen from experts that re-usable bags have become carriers for Salmonella, roaches and other pests...of particular hard to children

Really? You're unironically using a "What about the children???? argument?

by JustMe on Feb 27, 2012 1:57 pm • linkreport

"Shoppers have overwhelmingly switched to using reusable bags to carry their purchases, and fewer plastic bags are polluting the Anacostia River."

Link? I thought most of the bags in the Anacostia came from upstream, outside DC. Was there an objective analysis done of the amount of trash found now, vs. before the bag tax was instituted? I would love to see that, but don't see links anywhere in this article or in the comments, and I can't find any such thing.

I also thought that Fenty diverted the money into the general fund, in a predictable bait and switch. If that was undone, I never heard about it:

http://streetsense.org/2010/05/one-purpose-one-river-almost/

"According to the Mayor’s office, some if not all of these funds may be diverted to street maintenance within the District. Volunteers were particularly concerned that the environmentally conscious appeal of the tax would be undermined"

In the grand scheme of things, I don't really care much about the bag tax one way or the other any more any more. It's not that big a deal. But it irks me that our government, and the backers of the tax, continue to mislead people about it's effectiveness and where the money goes. Someone please prove me wrong.

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 2:23 pm • linkreport

@Jamie, yes, that is my understanding of the whole "money diverted" thing. It was a slim fast covered topic but obviously didn't gain much traction in the media.

No one really followed up

by HogWash on Feb 27, 2012 2:32 pm • linkreport

Since the money being made by this tax is going towards cleaning the Anacostia I now just toss all of my used bags into the river. If I'm being charged for cleanup costs I should make it worthwhile!

by Anna Costia on Feb 27, 2012 3:12 pm • linkreport

@Julie Lawson: Can you elaborate on why the tax needs to apply to brown paper bags?

Also, can you elaborate on which bags are exempt, and why?

by Jim T on Feb 27, 2012 4:12 pm • linkreport

Unless you want the bag tax to be used to do something, like clean up the Anacostia or even, for that matter, close the deficits.

I fully support cleaning up the Anacostia but money for that initiative should come from existing revenue. The government should re-balance and re-prioritize its spending rather than simply raising taxes every time a need comes up.

There's nothing wrong with a bag fee to discourage bag use just like there's nothing wrong with speed cameras to discourage dangerous behavior. But neither of these things should be revenue grabs. If you want them to be about raising revenue, that's a whole extra can of worms and I suspect you'll lose a lot of support on what's otherwise a sound idea.

by Falls Church on Feb 27, 2012 4:19 pm • linkreport

I fully support cleaning up the Anacostia but money for that initiative should come from existing revenue.

How interesting. What is worth giving up? More services cost more money. An additional need that was not being addressed before (eg, cleaning the Anacostia) is an additional cost. We should be thankful that they've created (what should be) a separate revenue stream for it that also reduces one form of the pollution at the same time.

by JustMe on Feb 27, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

@JustMe the point is that it inefficient to create an earmark program for every single thing that we want to fund. The DC budget is billions of dollars every year. There are hundreds if not thousands of things that are funded at this level.

Do you really think it makes sense to create a new micro-tax and earmark money for every million bucks we spend?

What makes this different?

I agree. We should clean up the Anacostia. We should also be willing to put it in the budget, and pay for it from the general fund (which would ensure it actually gets the money - unlike now, where the money went to close a budget shortfall).

It's not about "giving something up" any more than paying for school lunches or fixing potholes is "giving something up."

So do you have a yard sale every year that is earmarked for, say, lawn mowing expenses? Or do you just mow your lawn, and have a yard sale and pocket the $150?

Why should DC run it's budget with yard sales?

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 5:08 pm • linkreport

@JustMe, We should be thankful that they've created (what should be) a separate revenue stream for it that also reduces one form of the pollution at the same time.

As a follow-up to Jamie's post wrt Fenty's proposal to divert some (or all) of the revenue to street maintenance, do we know whether it was actually done..and whether the funds now aren't being diverted under this administration?

Yes, we should appreciate the separate revenue but question where they money goes...

by HogWash on Feb 27, 2012 5:09 pm • linkreport

"Yes, we should appreciate the separate revenue but question where they money goes..."

No. If we want the river cleaned up, we should figure out how much it's going to cost (or alternatively, how much we are willing to spend each year) and appropriate it, just like anything else that we think is important.

The extra revenue is great. The actual goal should not be hostage to the politics of that little revenue stream. And anyway, if the bag tax is a runaway success, where will the money to clean up the river come from?

by Jamie on Feb 27, 2012 5:12 pm • linkreport

You're right and I meant to place the word "appreciate" w/in quotes.

if the bag tax is a runaway success, where will the money to clean up the river come from?

I don't think most people have considered this and likely assumed that the bag tax would take care of it all...

by HogWash on Feb 27, 2012 5:21 pm • linkreport

I'm not a huge fan of these separately-created micro-revenue streams, but if you can't raise taxes for the general fund to pay for the needed program, then this works, too. The main benefit of the bag tax is to cut down on the number of bags, and that's been reasonably successful as well.

FallsChurch specifically wanted NO net additional revenue to come from the bag tax (by offsetting that revenue with tax cuts elsewhere), so by definition any program to clean the Anacostia would NECESSARILY have to be funded by cuts elsewhere.

by JustMe on Feb 27, 2012 5:45 pm • linkreport

The Anacostia will still be a sewer 10 years from now. The river clean up con was excuse was to shnooker more tax revenue out of you people. 20 years ago they said we had to switch from paper to plastic bags to save the environment. Now we're moving back to paper to save the environment while the ultimate martyrs amongst you bring their own cloth bags. This is nothing more than 'plain belly Sneeches vs. star belly Sneeches'...

K

by Kaleel on Feb 27, 2012 7:12 pm • linkreport

Why not ban or include a fee with anything that can pollute or liter the river ?

I see far more soda cans, plastic/foam/paper cups & bottles and paper (all types) than plastic bags.

If you truly want to stop pollution of the area including the rivers you need to add fees or ban everything that can be used to pollute end of story.

by kk on Feb 27, 2012 10:53 pm • linkreport

Not really sure about less bags being used. There are probably less disposable bags, but I just had to buy a roll of bags for garbage. Where I used to use the plastic bags that I received when caring my groceries home. Grocery store is on my home from metro station,soused to o shopping after work. Now find that I go shopping more with my car on weekend. Since I don't carry bags around to and from work. Had not bought garbage bags in over three years.

by Todd on Feb 27, 2012 11:00 pm • linkreport

@Charlie, No and No.

@Pelham1861, the Salmonella study was paid for by - wait for it - the plastic bag industry, and has already been widely refuted.

@Jaime, link (took me 1 minute to find, fyi)

"A report on the Anacostia prepared two years ago found plastic bags made up about half of the trash in the river on the city’s east side. This year, an environmental group that does an annual river cleanup said it collected a third as many bags as it did in 2009."

Also, Fenty tried to divert the money but the council stopped him.

@Falls Church There's nothing wrong with a bag fee to discourage bag use just like there's nothing wrong with speed cameras to discourage dangerous behavior. But neither of these things should be revenue grabs.

Before the bag tax we were all paying for the litter that free bags caused in the form of a dirty river. Now we either pay a bag tax or we pay with a little effort to bring reusable bags. We're paying the same amount (or less probably now), we just pay it in a different format.

Do you really think it makes sense to create a new micro-tax and earmark money for every million bucks we spend?

What makes this different?

What makes this tax different from some other taxes is that it is a classic Pigovian tax. And as such, it makes sense to redirect the revenue from it to cover the cost of the negative externality you're taxing.

by David C on Feb 27, 2012 11:01 pm • linkreport

This part "Before the ... in a different format." Should not have been in italics.

by David C on Feb 27, 2012 11:02 pm • linkreport

@DavidC, perhaps you didn't read my comment carefully. I asked if there was information showing that there were fewer bags in the river.

All that link that you sent me says is that people are paying the bag tax, which is obvious. Whether or not that has any effect on trash in the river requires actually evaluating the amount of trash in the river.

"There’s still trash in the river, but I do see fewer plastic bags,” said Dottie Yunger, the executive director of Anacostia Riverkeeper.

Forgive me if I don't take the word of the Anacostia Riverkeeper who "sees fewer bags" as any kind of proof of effectiveness. That's like giving a pill to a sick person and saying that their comment of "I still feel sick, but I guess I feel better" as proof that the medicine (or placebo) worked.

There was an extremely detailed analysis of the amount of trash (I believe by weight) before the tax. Has this been done again?

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 7:28 am • linkreport

Oh sorry David let me comment on this specfically:

"This year, an environmental group that does an annual river cleanup said it collected a third as many bags as it did in 2009."

First, it sounds right off like apples and oranges. Second: Link?

Why is it so easy for people to take unsubstantiated, unscientific comments like this as proof? Where's the report from the unnamed "environental group?" What was their methodology? They collected a third as many bags - so, did they have a third as many volunteers? Do they do this every year? With the same number of people? Have they gotten consistent numbers every year but last year?

Come on. That means nothing.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 7:33 am • linkreport

Jamie, I agree with you that we need the numbers. But having said that, I'm someone who is more than comfortable continuing the bag fee (it is not a tax) without them. In many sections of the city, it is making a difference. (But, right, let's get the numbers.)

But when you say "All that link that you sent me says is that people are paying the bag tax, which is obvious."
I counter that no, it is not obvious. Lots of places I frequent regularly do charge the fee (it's not a tax), but I've been to many stores, Safeway, Harris Teeter, in which the clerk has not charged the fee. I remind them that they should. That they're not shows that they've not been properly trained. They've gotten the message that it's ok to slip one by and do the customer a favor. Which leads me to believe that at some stores, management doesn't subscribe to it. So my continued takeaway is enforcement-enforcement-enforcement.

Once we get Maryland to institute a bag fee, you yourself will be able to go down to the Anacostia and see with your own eyes there are fewer bags, and you might even be ok with not having to have the numbers.

by Jazzy on Feb 28, 2012 8:12 am • linkreport

@Jamie

I guess you can just discount every single piece of information if you look at them individually.

But for a lot of us, a combination of fewer plastic bags sold, plus individuals saying they see fewer plastic bags, plus a cleanup effort picking up 1/3 as many bags as usual equals evidence that there are fewer bags in the river. But I guess it doesn't look that way if you're already determined to prove that the bag fee does nothing.

by MLD on Feb 28, 2012 8:40 am • linkreport

@MLD

Actual statistical proof is not too much to ask when there is such a straight-forward goal. You can debate endlessly about what happens to income and sales tax money, but this is such a simple question. And it may be too early to declare anything statistically valid, but the original article didn't seem to think so... so I'm just wondering why the author came to that conclusion.

It's my money, I'd like to know if it's being wasted or not. I don't see how that's a crazy desire.

by Theo16 on Feb 28, 2012 8:45 am • linkreport

As I said before I don't care too much about the bag tax, it's a minor inconvenience. But I don't like being misled by people.

The reason the numbers are important to me is that the tax is a legislated lifestyle change. I think that the bar should be reasonably high for things like that. They tend to meet with a lot of public resentment, and you only get so much public goodwill to use for such things.

The figures I remember were that bags made up something like 20% of the trash in the river by weight, even less by volume. Most of it is cans and bottles and cans. I would have much rather we had focused our efforts on a bottle bill, which I realize is a harder sell, but any public goodwill towards such an effort has now been expended on the bag tax.

Beyond that bottle bills have huge positive side effects for neighborhood trash. I pick up trash on the streets all the time near my home. Plastic bags have never been more than a small portion of the trash. Most of it is bottles, cans and carry-out waste. The bag tax has had no effect on this. If anything it's made things worse a bit worse, since instead of me picking up a plastic bag with someone's leftover chicken wings, they just throw the bagless styrofoam or paper box on the sidewalk and stuff is everywhere. (This is totally observational - I'm just saying that bags have never been a problem for neighborhood trash and I actually prefer picking up plastic bags to most other stuff).

So the best we could possibly hope for - if the bag tax is a runaway success - is that about half of the bags that originated in DC are removed from the river.

What portion of the trash does that really represent? We think that many, perhaps most, of bags come from upstream. We know that bags stay around the longest because they get caught on things - so any substantial cleanup effort is probably going to collect bags that have been there for a while, unlike other trash which more easily washes downstream. This fact means that simple analysis of what you collect further overstates the contribution of bags every year.

So even if we could remove 75% of the bags from the stream, the overall impact on trash would be, at most, a modest 15%. That assumes, of course, that those are all bags from us.

So when someone says "we collected one third as many bags as we did the year before!" -- it's clearly BS. Retailers say that they are using about half as many bags. DC of course says that figure is about 25%, but they are basing that on the amount of money they took in, versus an estimate of how many bags people used before the tax. Let's split the difference and say there's been a 2/3 reduction. For this "one third" to be true would mean that every single bag in the Anacostia came from DC, which is clearly not true.

The bottom line is I want to solve the problem.

I see a lot of PR, feelgood legislation from people who think with their bellies and not their minds, and very little analysis.

I'm fine with the bag tax. It's a done deal, it's hardly any money if I forget my bags, and as an environmentalist I have no problem with using fewer bags. But I worry that we did this instead of working harder on something that could have made a real difference. I worry that we are never going to take a hard look at whether it's really doing anything or not, because people don't really want to know. I worry that the lack of analysis will lead to future ineffective legislation, or the wrong kind of legislation.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 8:48 am • linkreport

@MLD: "But I guess it doesn't look that way if you're already determined to prove that the bag fee does nothing."

Huh? I'm not trying to prove it does nothing. I'm asking for someone to show me empirically that it actually does something.

A bunch of people (the same people who sold the legislation in the first place) saying "yeah, it looks like there aren't as many bags in the river" means nothing.

Real data was used to make a case for the legislation in the first place. Why are you against using real data to make a case for it's success now? It's been two years, don't you want to know if it's working or not, or if we need to keep looking for solutions to the problem?

I don't care about the bag tax, I want the river cleaned up.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 8:53 am • linkreport

I'm fine with the bag tax.

The amount of time and effort you're putting into discrediting the bag tax here belies this statement.

If you really want to do more for the river then spend your time advocating for that. Nit-picking data on the bag tax doesn't help your cause - the bag tax doesn't cost the city anything so it's not taking away from anything else. It can ONLY help.

by MLD on Feb 28, 2012 9:04 am • linkreport

Beyond that bottle bills have huge positive side effects for neighborhood trash...Plastic bags have never been more than a small portion of the trash. Most of it is bottles, cans and carry-out waste.

Assertions without proof. Where is the evidence?

by goldfish on Feb 28, 2012 9:11 am • linkreport

I am always leary of arguments that take the form of "Y is a problem. X reduces Y, but does not solve the problem completely, ergo X is a bad idea"

And yes, I feel that whether X is a new transit line, an affordable housing program, upzoning, OR a highway improvement.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 9:11 am • linkreport

"The amount of time and effort you're putting into discrediting the bag tax here belies this statement."

Jees, MLD, is it possible that someone can not have a problem with a particular activity, but still be skeptical about whether it accomplishes a particular goal?

Even if the bag tax was found to be completely ineffective for removing trash from the Anacostia, I would not favor its removal. It's already done, and using fewer bags is better than using more bags.

Great.

Can we please try to figure out if it's had any impact on the river now?

This started because Julie Lawson started this article with the statement that the bag tax has "unquestionably achieved its goals."

Don't you think that a bold statement like that should be backed up in some way? What were those goals?

http://www.trashfreeanacostia.com/index.cgi?page=faq

"What's the problem? 20,000 tons of trash enters the Anacostia River each year. A recent Department of Environment report identified plastic bags, Styrofoam, snack wrappers, bottles and cans as 85% of the trash in the River.
In the tributary streams, plastic bags dominate, making up nearly 50% of the trash."

That's some nice data.

How will this have any real effect?

"DDOE report estimates that placing a small fee on all "free" bags could remove 47% of the trash from the tributaries and 21% from the river's main stem."

Has that happened?

"The fee is a relatively low-cost incentive to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags, to refuse bags for single item purchases, and to encourage cashiers to ask whether a bag is even needed. Precedent exists that a small fee can dramatically change consumer behavior.
Ireland was the first to implement a fee to change consumer behavior and saw a 94 percent reduction in disposable bag use within the first year."

How are we doing compared to that?

http://www.wtop.com/?nid=25&sid=1677799

"CFO Natwar Gandhi estimates the proposed tax would generate $3.6 million in revenue during fiscal 2010, which starts Oct. 1, and $9.5 million total between 2010 and 2013. One cent of the tax would go to retailers and the other 4 cents to the District. That money would be dedicated to Anacostia cleanup."

How much money has DC spent on river cleanup so far?

This is how the bill was sold.

Facts, figures, an analysis of a problem, and a proposed solution.

I really don't think it's too much to ask that we see how we did in meeting those goals, for all the reasons I already outlined. As of now, I don't think that we've "unquestionably" achieved our goals, since nobody seems to be able to answer any of the questions about it.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 9:17 am • linkreport

@Jamie, Let me first point out that I hate the bag tax. It is inconvenient and annoying, and it causes friction between me and my spouse every time I forget to bring a @#$% bag to buy a gallon of milk.

But to deny the effectiveness of the law is foolish. It is obvious that there are fewer bags in the street gutters, which is how they end up in the river. To demand a full-on statistical work-up would be a waste of tax dollars.

by goldfish on Feb 28, 2012 9:30 am • linkreport

@goldfish

Maybe it would be a waste of money. But anecdotal evidence like glancing at street gutters is the exact opposite of "unquestionably achieved its goals."

by Theo16 on Feb 28, 2012 9:33 am • linkreport

"I am always leary of arguments that take the form of "Y is a problem. X reduces Y, but does not solve the problem completely, ergo X is a bad idea""

Did I make that argument? Please quote me. In fact I said, many times, that I don't really care about the bag tax. I just want to know if we still have a problem that needs fixing and nobody seems to be interested in finding that out.

All I am asking is whether the bag tax has solved our river problem. Everyone here is bending over backwards to discredit me because you think I hate the bag tax.

It seems to me that a lot of folks somehow feel like their honor is somehow so bound to the success of the bag tax, that they are unwilling or unable to take an objective look at whether it's actually helping us solve the problem that it is supposed to solve.

I don't care about the bag tax.

I care about the river.

Is the river fixed? Did it work? Do we need to try other things?

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 9:37 am • linkreport

"To demand a full-on statistical work-up would be a waste of tax dollars."

It was worth counting trash before we were earning 2 million a year from a bag tax, and you don't think it's worth doing now?

You should run for city council.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 9:39 am • linkreport

"Is the river fixed? Did it work? Do we need to try other things?"

Pardon, but my impression was

A. There are many other things going on already wrt to cleaning the Anacostia, besides the bag tax
B. There is discussion of a bag tax in PG, precisely to address the issue of md origin bags in the Anacostia

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 9:44 am • linkreport

http://www.epa.gov/oswer/onecleanupprogram/anacostia.htm

"Not waiting for the final strategy to be completed, ATWA members have been effectively cleaning up their sites and stopping the flow of contaminants to the river. Through their efforts, they have:

repaired over 6.5 miles of leaking storm sewers,
constructed 6 sand filters to reduce trash flow to the river,
built protective covers over 30 acres to reduce contaminate migration,
removed over 7,500 gallons of coal tar, 20,000 gallons of petroleum, and 25 pounds of mercury
abated over 27,000 tons of contaminated soil and 1 million gallons of surface and groundwater. "

http://ddoe.dc.gov/service/anacostia-river-initiatives

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 9:47 am • linkreport

"here are many other things going on already wrt to cleaning the Anacostia, besides the bag tax"

Wow. We're going backwards.

What is the effect of these activites?

So you think it's a good thing that PG county is implementing a bag tax, when we have no idea if DC's bag tax has had any substantial impact?

What if we found that there was only a tiny reduction in bags? Wouldn't we need to take a hard look at other possible sources of the problem? What if it's upstream landfills? Trash containment problems at transfer stations? Maybe the estimates/wild guesses of how many fewer bags are used are wrong, because of, say, excluded busisesses or noncompliance?

As I said I don't care much about the bag tax. But if we bothered to do some analysis, we could learn something that would help us guide future legislation. Maybe the fee is too low. Maybe we need to work on enforcement. Maybe we need to look for other sources of the problem.

Oh well. Shoot first, ask questions later.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 9:50 am • linkreport

I am against this as it is not a bag fee IT IS A TAX.
I get that plastics do not degrade, but PAPER BAGS DO DEGRADE. So Jessica, why am I being charged for paper bags @ whooe foods/trader joes/safeway/giant. I do use them around the house to hold the newspapers which I then put at the curb for recyling.

?hy tax paper bags

by lilkunta on Feb 28, 2012 9:52 am • linkreport

"PAPER BAGS DO DEGRADE"

Not really. They are less of a trash problem, but most of them end up in landfills and do not degrade. They also consume far more natural resources in production than supermarket plastic bags. I'm glad that at least we weren't so stupid as to just switch from plastic to paper.

http://www.reuseit.com/learn-more/myth-busting/why-paper-is-no-better-than-plastic

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 9:54 am • linkreport

@Jamie: I just want to know if we still have a problem that needs fixing and nobody seems to be interested in finding that out.

Been to Anacostia Park lately? Yes there is still a problem.

DC water recently launched a $2.6 billion project to help fix it. The water rates are projected to double over the next 10 years to pay for it.

by goldfish on Feb 28, 2012 9:55 am • linkreport

By the way there are also other very plausible reasons why even a 50% reduction in bag use could have a far smaller effect on trash in the river.

How do bags end up in the river?

Most bags come from safeway. Have any of you guys ever tossed a plastic bag onto a sidewalk? How many of you guys use reusable bags?

There's probably a high correlation between people who bring their own bags, and "responsible" bag users. Your bags probably never would have ended up in the river in the first place.

On the other hand, people shopping at bodegas buying carry-out, singles, and so on, are probably not going to be using a canvas bag for those things.

I would guess that most street trash isn't from Safeway & Giant bags, and that most of the reduction in bag use is.

If true, we would expect a substantial reduction in landfill trash, but a much smaller reduction in river trash.

On the other hand, if a 50% reduction in bag sales does in fact equal a 50% reduction in river trash, then it seems like litter isn't really the source of the problem. Maybe we have landfill containment issues.

This is a theory, for which I have no proof whatsoever. But it's certainly plausible.

We really need to know what the effect on trash in the river has been, to understand where it's coming from and how best to address it going forward.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 10:06 am • linkreport

"I would guess that most street trash isn't from Safeway & Giant bags, and that most of the reduction in bag use is."

Actually I work in DC and dont live here - and i usually only buy single items at stores (not single beers though) and since the bag tax I am much more likely to simply not take a bag at all. Now, I made sure to properly dispose of bags, but Im sure some people who did not are among those who decide its not worth 5 cents for a bag for to place one or two items in.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 10:12 am • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity - I don't think you represent a significant bag user. The estimates for bag use in DC are 443 per year (that's what they are using as the baseline for the supposed reduction). I don't believe that number, but even if you bought something every single work day, and got a bag with it, you're less than half of a typical resident.

That number by the way is per resident not per adult. 260 million/ 600,000. It's a ridiculous number.

I would love it if DC would publish statistics on the breakdown of their bag tax revenue, even if just "grocery chains" & "convenience stores." I'm just guessing the vast majority come from supermakets, because they do for me, but I could be wrong.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 10:16 am • linkreport

kk I agree. I see this kind of trash: cigarette packs, candy wrappers, and soda bottle, beer bottle. THOSE things are trashing the Anacostia. MOre importantly, the fund that has been all these years for the Anacostia, where is that $? Why hasnt it been used to properly clean the river?

__by kk on Feb 27, 2012 10:53 pm
Why not ban or include a fee with anything that can pollute or liter the river ?
I see far more soda cans, plastic/foam/paper cups & bottles and paper (all types) than plastic bags.

If you truly want to stop pollution of the area including the rivers you need to add fees or ban everything that can be used to pollute end of story.__

by lilkunta on Feb 28, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

@Jim T: The reason paper bags are included is because the goal is to induce people to use reusable bags. Paper bags costs twice as much to the retailer as plastic, so if we simply banned plastic, most people would switch to paper and costs to the stores would go way up.

Still going through the discussion, but a few points:

- Fenty tried to reappropriate the bag fund in the 2011 budget but the Council protected it, and it has been secure since.

- Public opinion and business surveys have happened, and trash trap data is being analyzed. There is a plan in place for a more thorough before-and-after study later this year.

- While littered bags are certainly a problem, even the bags that are "responsibly disposed of" contribute to the problem of trash in our rivers. How many overflowing trash cans do you see each day? Bags are so light that they take flight in the wind. Landfills have 40-foot fences around them to keep the bags inside, and the trees nearby are still full of them.

Finally, we never said that the bag fee would make the Anacostia River pristine. Stormwater, bacteria, and toxic sites are as much of a problem as trash. But this is a powerful first step, and it has definitely raised the public's understanding of the river's challenges, yet another key part of the broader restoration strategy.

by Julie Lawson on Feb 28, 2012 11:34 am • linkreport

@Julie Lawson,

Thanks for your reply. That raises the larger point: If the problem is plastic bags, do we want to pick "winners and losers" among the alternatives or just let the market decide? If paper bags are a proble, or course, that's another story--but I should think that brown paper bags are a small problem compared with all the white paper we see being thrown away or recycled.

For that matter: Do we really know that the retailer's profits would decline if the bag tax only applied to plastic bags? I could imagine some retailers simply charging 5 cents for all bags, or 2 cents for paper and 5 cents for plastic.

by Jim T on Feb 28, 2012 11:50 am • linkreport

"Finally, we never said that the bag fee would make the Anacostia River pristine."

You did say that the program has unquestionably met its goals. You also said fewer plastic bags are polluting the Anacostia River. I think it's reasonable that if you are going to use language like that, and make specific claims about results, that they be supported in some way other than anecdotes.

"There is a plan in place for a more thorough before-and-after study later this year."

I'm relieved to hear that and look forward to a comprehensive, objective review of the results.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 11:59 am • linkreport

Not sure whether Jamie's question has been answered.

But do we know what percentage of the set aside funds have been used to clean up the Anacostia? Like, an actual figure?

by HogWash on Feb 28, 2012 12:29 pm • linkreport

The idea that the bag costs (to the retailer) are going to move retail pricing is beyond silly.

It is a cost of business: like lighting the store, keeping it cool in the summer, and warm in the winter.

We are talking about $4 million collected in bag fees, no? So the issue is how much was wasted on funding groups, and how much was spent picking up the trash?

Going forward, tying bag fees into a dedicated fund is a bad idea. If it is tax, just tax it.

I'm seeing very little evidence that bag bans result in less trash. Bag fees, even less. That is, after all, 80M bags taxed.

by charlie on Feb 28, 2012 12:54 pm • linkreport

Jaime, the link was included. It's linked to the word "link." Also you can google the text to find it. Must you really be spoonfed everything?

That means nothing.

No, it means that a group which tracks such things has measured a reduction, which is certainly enough to make the original claim. If you think their measurment is off, it's on you to prove them wrong. But they are what journalists call "an authority" and their statemens carry weight.

Forgive me if I don't take the word of the Anacostia Riverkeeper who "sees fewer bags" as any kind of proof of effectiveness

Only if you're truly sorry. Are you sorry for completely discounting expert testimony?

I'm just saying that bags have never been a problem for neighborhood trash....So when someone says "we collected one third as many bags as we did the year before!" -- it's clearly BS. Retailers say that they are using about half as many bags. DC of course says that figure is about 25%.

Links?

For this "one third" to be true would mean that every single bag in the Anacostia came from DC, which is clearly not true.

No, it could be that part of the education that has been a natural part of this process has had a spillover into neighboring areas, or it could mean that not only are people getting fewer bags, but people who get bags are more vigilant about throwing them away properly thanks to education (so that the ratio of bags that are littered to bags that are used went down) or it could meant that some of the initiatives paid for by the tax - like trash traps on streams that feed the Anacostia - are working or it could mean that your numbers have been pulled out of your kiester. But it doesn't meant that the number is BS.

In part because the AP reports that bag used dropped from 270 million per year to 55 million.

I worry that we are never going to take a hard look at whether it's really doing anything or not

If people are using fewer bags, it is doing something. It's crazy to argue that using fewer bags won't result in less bags being littered.

All I am asking is whether the bag tax has solved our river problem.

It has not. It was never supposed to. The river has more problems than just bags. It has reduced the number of bags that are in the river, and provided money that has been used to help keep the river clean (city paper wrote an article about how the money was spent).

we have no idea if DC's bag tax has had any substantial impact?

According to an authority on the subject, bag related litter has been cut by two-thirds.

What if we found that there was only a tiny reduction in bags?

We didn't.

This is a theory, for which I have no proof whatsoever. But it's certainly plausible.

Not in the face of the authoritative statements to the contrary.

You did say that the program has unquestionably met its goals.

That's because it did. It resulted in a massive reduction in the use of bags and fewer bags in the river and provided millions of dollars in revenue to be used to make the river cleaner. That money has been used to install trash traps, expanded the RiverSmart Homes program, pay for an anti-litter public education campaign as well as enforcement and other education. Those were the goals.

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 1:10 pm • linkreport

Hogwash, do we know what percentage of the set aside funds have been used to clean up the Anacostia? Like, an actual figure?

There was $2M raised in year 1. By the following summer $1.5 Million had been spent with another $1M in grants ready to go.

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 1:10 pm • linkreport

@charlie
I'm seeing very little evidence that bag bans result in less trash. Bag fees, even less.

That doesn't make any sense. If bags make up some of the trash, and we stop giving out bags, obviously there would be less trash.

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 1:12 pm • linkreport

"If you think their measurment is off, it's on you to prove them wrong."

I have "people" who claim there is no reduction at all. If you think my people, who are a group who tracks such things, are off, then prove them wrong.

Really, must you be spoonfed everything?

"it means that a group which tracks such things has measured a reduction, which is certainly enough to make the original claim."

Let's say that again.

Proof of a reduction in bags is that a group which tracks such things has measured a reduction and that is certainly enough to make the original claim (of "unquestionable success").

HAHAHAHA!!

You can't even tell me what "group" this is, much less how they came up with this figure.

You should run for congress.

Credibility, meet window.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 1:25 pm • linkreport

"No, it could be that part of the education that has been a natural part of this process has had a spillover into neighboring areas,"

another personal anecdote - Ive been much more likely to turn down a bag for one or two items in VIRGINIA since the DC bag tax went into effect.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 28, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

By the way the AP does report things, but someone else tells them what to report. The AP is not actually an authoritative source of any kind.

That number, from 270 million to 55 million, is what I was saying DC said (so it's actually 20%, my bad).

That of course is apples and oranges. 270 million is a wild guess based on national averages, whereas 55 million is $ earned/3 cents and does not include bags given out for free or from businesses that aren't covered.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 1:33 pm • linkreport

I have "people" who claim there is no reduction at all.

Which people?

You can't even tell me what "group" this is

It's in the original link. The group is called "Anacostia Riverkeeper".

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 2:18 pm • linkreport

Here's more evidence:

'Groundwork Anacostia, a nonprofit group, maintains three traps that capture floating garbage along the river. In December 2011, plastic bags accounted for 1 percent of trash captured at those locations.

Before the bag tax in the district, the three trash traps were predominantly filled with disposable plastic bags, Bolinder said.

"The volume of bags in relation to other trash has dropped almost 100 percent, I rarely see a bag in the traps anymore," he said.'

And on how the reduction in bags might exceed the reduction sold in DC

'Despite the lack of a bag tax in Prince George's, some grocery stores in the county have already taken steps to reduce plastic bag waste.

MOM's Organic Market in College Park does not offer plastic bags for customers to carry their groceries. The organic food mart has paper bags, but encourages costumers to use reusable grocery bags.'

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 2:29 pm • linkreport

And on how the reduction in bags might exceed the reduction sold in DC

It seems possible that people with the greatest propensity to litter may also have the greatest inclination to decline paying 5 cents for a bag. Those full grocery bags for which people choose to pay 5 cents end up in your kitchen. That plastic bag for a single item purchased at 7-11 to be consumed while driving home may blow out the window even if one did not mean to litter.

by Jim T on Feb 28, 2012 2:55 pm • linkreport

"In December 2011, plastic bags accounted for 1 percent of trash captured at those locations. Before the bag tax in the district, the three trash traps were predominantly filled with disposable plastic bags, Bolinder said."

Wow! Amazing! They went from "predominantly" to "almost zero."

Considering that thee actual data, where they counted and weighed the trash, showed plastic bags to be only about 20% of trash in the first place, I find this rather implausible.

So, is there a source for this information other than the word of Mike Bolinder? e.g., a report on the monthly analysis of bags vs. other trash?

Oh, never mind. Mike is someone who "tracks such things" so I should just take his comment as gospel.

Strange that the "predominantly to less than 1%" figures aren't to be found anywhere on Groundwork Anacostia's web site. In fact, the only place they can be found is in this quote in an article.

If I was in their shoes, I'd put that in huge letters on the front page! I'd show people the data I'd collected!

Assuming I had legitimate data to back it up, of course.

Here's the thing, David. You keep providing me with unsubstantiated information. Nothing to look at. Nothing to make it believable, other than the word of an obviously biased source.

In this case, someone whose gets their paycheck from the bag tax.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 2:56 pm • linkreport

Jaime,

Let's look at the evidence that is mounting:

1. DC claims that bag use has dropped. [It makes sense that if fewer people are using bags, then fewer bags will find there way into the river, no?]
2. Supermarkets claim that bag use has dropped and that they are bringing fewer bags into the city. [if the number of bags coming into the city goes down, the number going out - including those going out by river should also go down]
3. Citizens claim that bag use has dropped
4. Groundwork Anacostia, in one report, claims that they are finding fewer bags in their traps
5. Anacostia Riverkeeper, in one report, claims that they are finding fewer bags in their cleanups.

So I think it's fair to say that - based on all of the available evidence - the bag tax is achieving it's goal. You can keep complaining that it isn't enough evidence, that you think everyone is lying and is part of some conspiracy to hide the truth, but you're really saying more about yourself at that point.

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 3:24 pm • linkreport

David - I don't dispute that bag use has dropped. That is obvious.

All I have ever wanted is an objective analysis of the impact on trash in the river.

If the only goal of the bag tax was to reduce bag use, then why even bother mentioning the Anacostia in the same sentence?

I don't think there is a conspiracy. In fact I think it's very likely that there aren't as many bags in the traps. It's very likely that there are fewer bags in the river.

But how many? What's the overall impact?

Is this program good? Does it need adjustment, or is it perfect as it is? Is it having an measurable impact on the river, or only in the number of bags being handed out?

Jesus, I just want someone to either measure it -- the same way that was done prior to the bag tax -- and let us know what they find.

If you haven't done that yet, then great! But don't go around saying it has "unquestionably" met its goals, unless its only goal was reduce the number of bags used, without regard to whether that's 0.1% or 20% of the trash in the river.

The OP's answer is just fine with me. A study is planned. I look forward to it. Until then, we don't know for sure what the scope of the impact has been.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 3:34 pm • linkreport

But don't go around saying it has "unquestionably" met its goals, unless its only goal was reduce the number of bags used, without regard to whether that's 0.1% or 20% of the trash in the river.

That's pretty much how I understand the goals. Reduce bag use and raise revenue for cleaning the river.

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 4:17 pm • linkreport

"There was $2M raised in year 1. By the following summer $1.5 Million had been spent with another $1M in grants ready to go."

This is good to know. I wish it was possible to figure this out without being intimately involved with the program. It is exceedingly difficult it is to find out where the money's being spent. I googled for a good while and the best I could come up with was an article from mid-2010 that said Anacostia Riverkeeper was still waiting to see some cash. None of the non-profit web sites or DC's web site have any info about the money flow, or anything that's really substantive for the most part.

Transparency has always been a tough spot for the DC government. The latest "news" on DDOE's "Anacostia River Initiatives" web site (boldly marked as new! is the 2009 annoucement from "Mayor Fenty" about the Bandalong trap.

No info at all about what's going on with the bag tax, of course. Though it does say in a sidebar, "District businesses selling food or alcohol will be charging $.05 for each disposable paper or plastic."

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 4:20 pm • linkreport

"That's pretty much how I understand the goals. Reduce bag use and raise revenue for cleaning the river."

Interestingly, two conflicting goals.

Well, I guess your standards are a bit lower than mine. I'd like to know whether we got rid of a million, or just one bag from the river.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 4:22 pm • linkreport

two conflicting goals.

And yet, it does both.

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 4:39 pm • linkreport

I guess your standards are a bit lower than mine. I'd like to know whether we got rid of a million, or just one bag from the river.

No. I'd love to see the results of a study similar to the 2008 one. But I don't need to see those results to know that the tax has met it's goals.

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 4:45 pm • linkreport

"But I don't need to see those results to know that the tax has met it's goals."

And the TV stations didn't need to see those results when they said Al Gore was president.

I'm glad the a few anecdotes from some biased sources is all you need to proclaim success. I'll wait for the data.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 4:53 pm • linkreport

Jaime, for the umpteenth time, the data doesn't relate to the goals. The goals are

1. Reduce bag use
2. Raise revenue

Reducing trash in the river should naturally follow from those goals, and all of the evidence we have seems to show it will, but we don't even need to confirm that to know that we meet the goals. Knowing that is interesting, but doesn't change how well the tax meets the goal.

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 5:35 pm • linkreport

"the data doesn't relate to the goals."

Seriously?

Who are you?

You just don't care if this program has made any measurable impact at all?

I really hope you aren't directly involved with these efforts in any way.

Any kind of program, of any kind, should be data driven. There is just no other way to know if you're accomplishing what you set out to. People who expect a certain result are likely to perceive one, regardless of whether or not it's there. This has been documented for centuries. It's called the placebo effect. This is why we have methodologies.

Of course there are still things you can do wrong, like only using data that supports your hypothsis. But you aren't even close to being in that danger zone - you haven't even got any data to misrepresent!

I'm glad you don't speak for the actual organizations involved here. OP has said they are going to collect data this year. I'm very glad that at least some people are interested in knowing how our millions of dollars are working for us.

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 5:50 pm • linkreport

ou just don't care if this program has made any measurable impact at all?

I do and it has. It has reduced the number of bags used and raised money for Anacostia cleaning. Success!

Any kind of program, of any kind, should be data driven.

Data has been gathered and made available to you. They've raised several million $s and reduced bag use by half or more.

You're all wound up about what YOU think the goals should be. And why haven't they yet measured the goals YOU have defined. But those are the goals of the program. So you'll never be happy. You might as well complain that Social Security hasn't cured whooping cough.

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 6:03 pm • linkreport

"They've raised several million $s and reduced bag use by half or more."

"But those are the goals of the program. "

So.. you really think that none of the goals of legislation sold with a tagline of "skip the bag, save the river" actually involve the river? Wow dude.

No. Those are not the goals. It seems stunningly obvious to me that the goals of a program sold with a picture of the Anacostia river would actually have to do with cleaning up the river, but I guess it isn't to everyone. So go read the legislation.

http://www.ncel.net/news_uploads/213/DC-5centfeelaw.pdf

First words:

"To protect the aquatic and environmental assets of the District of Columbia, ..."

http://ddoe.dc.gov/publication/anacostia-river-clean-and-protection-act-2009

"Protects the aquatic and environmental assets of the District of Columbia, to ban the use of disposable non-recyclable plastic carryout bags, to establish a fee on disposable carryout bags provided by any business that sells food or alcohol products"

Are we done yet?

by Jamie on Feb 28, 2012 6:30 pm • linkreport

Jamie, that is from a list of goals in the preamble.

One goal is "To protect the aquatic and environmental assets of the District of Columbia" and another is "to establish a fee on disposable carryout bags provided by grocery stores, drug stores, liquor stores, restaurants, and food vendors."

Two separate goals. So the purpose of the 2nd goal is not to achieve the 1st goal anymore than the purpose of the 1st goal is to achieve the 2nd. The protection of the river was to be achieved through the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund which is funded by the bag tax. The bag tax has funded that, and thus is an unquestionable success.

But as I've shown, even if it the goal were more directly fewer bags in the river, we have two independent experts on Anacostia trash who have said that they have noticed a measurable difference in the amount of bags in the river. There is a reason why courts admit expert testimony, and that is because it's relevant. You think they're lying because they're on the dole or something, but that's a pretty serious claim to make with zero data. A lot more serious than claiming that there are fewer bags in the river based on two independenet experts, wouldn't you agree. So why don't you get some data to back up the claim that these people are lying and then we'll be done.

by David C on Feb 28, 2012 10:14 pm • linkreport

David, I am not at all sure what it is you are trying to prove. Expert testimony? Preamble? On the dole???

Dude, take off your tin foil hat. All I have ever said, from beginning to end, is that if you are going to make claims using language such as "unquestionably met its goals" that you should have data to back that up.

The goals of the Anacostia River Cleanup Act of 2009 -- yes, that is the name of the law -- the River Cleanup Act -- is to clean up the river.

There is no data saying that the river has been cleaned up, or showing how much cleaner it is than it was before. Therefore, one can't really say, in any kind of good faith, that the law has met its goals, much less "unquestionably" met them, when the success has never been measured in any objective way.

by Jamie on Feb 29, 2012 6:34 am • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy] maybe it would help to frame this another way.

The actual lawmakers predicted much more revenue from the bill than they got (3.5 vs. 2 mil in the first year). When it was lower than expected, everyone was happy, because it meant fewer bags were handed out.

So, would it have still been a success to you if we'd only had 50% bag reduction?

If we had only had 20% bag reduction but made 7 million dollars would that have been a success?

In fact, what in your mind, would possibly have made the program a "failure" at this point?

Since you don't think that the actual measurement of river impact is in any way relevant, perhaps you can explain what the criteria YOU think determine failure or success are, and what, if anything, could have made it a failure.

Because if your only criteria are that "businesses now charge a tax", well, I won't disagree with you. We passed a law, and implemented it, like we do a dozens of times a year. We have an essentially functioning legislative process. But I think that people who are concerned with the purpose of the legislation wanted more than a demonstration of that, and I don't think that's what OP was referring to.
Otherwise, why wait 2 years to announce success? You could have done it on January 1, 2010.

by Jamie on Feb 29, 2012 6:48 am • linkreport

All I have ever said, from beginning to end, is that if you are going to make claims using language such as "unquestionably met its goals" that you should have data to back that up.

We do have data. Bag use is way down. That is data. $2.5 million has been raised and some of that money has gone toward river cleanup. That is data.

Furthermore, I've cited two, independent sources who measure trash on the river who's measurements show that the amount of plastic bags in the river is down. But you just call them "obviously biased" without explaining why you think they're biased. Do they hate the bag industry? Like bags in the river? Love lying? What is their bias exactly?

The goals of the Anacostia River Cleanup Act of 2009 -- yes, that is the name of the law -- the River Cleanup Act -- is to clean up the river.

Right, but the law contains several components which in total has the goal of cleaning up the river. Selling Anacostia license plates, for example, is in the law. Now selling license plates won't clean up the river. But it does raise money that goes to the fund to clean up the river. If the license plates sell, and money is rasied, then that part is a success. Similarly, the bag tax is designed to lower bag use and raise funds. That is also an unquestionable success. And of course, it has lowered the number of bags in the river according to two independent authorities on the subject.

There is no data saying that the river has been cleaned up, or showing how much cleaner it is than it was before.

And there may never be. The problem is that the law might only make the river cleaner than it otherwise would have been. But it might still be getting dirtier and dirtier due to larger forces that overwhelm the tools of this law. We might have slowed the rate of pollution, but not stopped or reversed the effects.

Therefore, one can't really say, in any kind of good faith, that the law has met its goals, much less "unquestionably" met them, when the success has never been measured in any objective way

Yes you can. As long as you deal with the actual goals of the bag tax portion of the law. Which is what everyone else in the world is doing. Even if you overdefine the goals (I'm unclear on how you think a reduction in bag use, couldn't result in a reduction in bags in the river), we have two groups who say that it has done that two.

When it was lower than expected, everyone was happy, because it meant fewer bags were handed out.

Right. Reducing bag use was considered better than raising revenue.

So, would it have still been a success to you if we'd only had 50% bag reduction?

Yes.

In fact, what in your mind, would possibly have made the program a "failure" at this point?

Bag use remained the same or went up; and the amount of revenue raised wasn't enough to create grants for river protection or clean up.

Dude, take off your tin foil hat.

Without an apology, we're done here. You've repeated insulted me and I don't understand why you think that's appropriate. I'm only interested in talking with people who can behave like an adult.

by David C on Feb 29, 2012 9:00 am • linkreport

@Jamie:

A bit of perspective is in order.

The effort to clean up the Anacostia has been in the courts for many years. There are as many issues as there are sources of pollution; probably the most important problem is the combined stormwater/sewer system from the older parts of DC. The system does not have the capacity to treat the water when it rains a lot, so sewage and storm water is dumped into the Anacostia raw. This is how the bags end up in the river.

To fix this DC water has just broken ground on a new series of sewage storage tunnels. The impetus for plan stemmed from lawsuits filed 20-30 years ago. The cost is $2.6 billion, to be paid for by increasing the water utility rates.

So the $2 million raised by the bag bill, that you are fussing about, is less than 0.1% of the total cost to clean up the river. Basically rounding error.

by goldfish on Feb 29, 2012 9:08 am • linkreport

"You've repeated insulted me and I don't understand why you think that's appropriate"

I apologize. Let me phrase this another way. I felt that you have vastly misrepresented my arguments. Your comments:

"You think they're lying because they're on the dole or something"

"You can keep complaining that it isn't enough evidence, that you think everyone is lying and is part of some conspiracy to hide the truth, but you're really saying more about yourself at that point."

I never accused anyone of lying, or being on the dole. Not once. I never said there was a conspiracy to conceal information. If you would like to stand behind these statements, please quote me directly.

I said that is is not accurate to characterize something as "unquestionably meeting its goals" when there has been no analysis of the results as compared to those goals. This is not "lying", it's overstating. I attributed no malicious intent, nor a conspiracy, to this action.

I said that the comments of someone who is actually being paid directly through the revenue of this program (e.g., a non-profit funded in part by its proceeds), or has a strong personal interest in the success of a particular measure, is not an objective source for information about its success, particularly when no real data is involved. I think anyone would agree that this is true.

I said that people who expect a certain result tend to see one, whether or not it is present. This is simple fact. This is why we create studies with generally accepted methodologies, and place importance on the value of independence, to analyze the outcome of such things.

None of this is "lying", or a "conspiracy", or says anyone is "on the dole." I have no problem with paying people to run non-profits to clean up the river, in fact, I fully support it. But I don't think we should take their anectodal comments as proof of anything.

So let me ask you, David.

What would have constituted NOT meeting the goals, at this point?

If the goal is simply that a piece of legislation was implemented, and businesses are largely complying with it, then what is different today than on February 1, 2010? Why not say it met its goals then?

The original target was to raise a lot more money in the 1st year: 3.5 million vs. 2 million. This was considered a success, because it meant we stopped more bags. Would the original target have also been a success?

What if we had raised 8 million, and only stopped about 20% of bags. That would have been a lot of money to clean up the river. Also a success?

What, actually, would have been a failure in your mind? Anything at all?

The legislation had a purpose. The purpose wasn't just to enact a law and see that people obeyed it. It was to change a behavior with the goal of affecting the quality of the environment. The goal is affecting the quality of the environment -- not just changing the behavior. If changing the behavior turns out to have no impact on the river, for reasons we didn't anticipate (but, which I have deteailed in many plausible scenarios), then we didn't meet the goal. We need to find other ways to meet the goal.

We don't know yet what the effect of our legislation has been on our goal. All we know is that people are using fewer bags. We don't know how many bags still end up in the river because we haven't compared it to before the legislation in any empirical way.

by Jamie on Feb 29, 2012 9:19 am • linkreport

@godlfish - I know that. It's the main reason I didn't like the bag bill before it was implemented - because I felt that it was a piece of legislation that required a substantial lifestyle change, with very limited potential benefits.

As I have said in this thread already, I no longer have a problem with the bag tax, and my main opposition to it has proven to be largely intellectual. In practice it makes very little difference because the cost of the bags is very low. I am fine with it. I bring my own bags most of the time, if I have to pay 20 cents when I forget, no biggie. I'm glad it goes to cleaning up the river.

But that doesn't change the fact that I still don't believe it is likely to have had much overall impact on the river. (The bags that is- I think the money is great). And I really think that we should care about what that impact is, before marching forward with implementing other programs. Because that analysis would be invaluable in helping us craft future legislation.

If it's found that the impact is inconsequential, then maybe we should seriously think about what it would take to get a bottle bill passed. Or place a greater importance on spending more direct money on cleanup (e.g. from the general fund).

There is a lot that we don't totally understand about the trash. We don't know exactly where it comes from. We don't know how many of the bags that are found in the river have been there for a month or for 10 years -- because unlike most other trash they pretty much get stuck and stay stuck until someone cleans them up. We don't know if trash coming from storm drains is really just people littering, or if its from industrial/institutional sources or transfer stations or landfills.

Anything we do other than counting trash is guessing. If we want to see what effect a program is having, we need to count and weigh trash.

We already did that before, I see no reason we wouldn't feel its important to continue doing on a regular basis.

Generally speaking, I think it's totally irresponsible to pass legislation that mandates certain activities, without also legislating that we see what benefits it had.

by Jamie on Feb 29, 2012 9:36 am • linkreport

@Jamie:
As a first glance you can estimate the proportion of the impact of the bags on river pollution by the fraction of the cost to fix it. You spend 0.1%, you expect to gain a 0.1% improvement. This is very little (inconsequential?), but then the amount spent was similarly small.

The program effectiveness ("bang for the buck") is measured by comparing fractional improvement with the fractional cost. If that ratio is greater unity, then the program is a success. Since this an "ounce of prevention" kind of thing, and the sewer project is the "pound of cure", I will lay a bet that this ratio is indeed greater than one and thus the program is worth the money.

by goldfish on Feb 29, 2012 9:49 am • linkreport

Jamie,

because I felt that it was a piece of legislation that required a substantial lifestyle change, with very limited potential benefits.

The lifestyle change is the benefit.

by Alex B. on Feb 29, 2012 9:49 am • linkreport

Sigh.

We didn't write this law because we felt it was important that people use canvas bags instead of plastic ones.

We wrote the law because the use of plastic bags was believed to cause a problem.

That's like saying that the act of taking a pill makes you better.

It's not the act of taking the pill. It's what the pill is supposed to do after you take it.

We know that people are taking a pill. We don't know if it works.

by Jamie on Feb 29, 2012 9:53 am • linkreport

"The program effectiveness ("bang for the buck") is measured by comparing fractional improvement with the fractional cost. If that ratio is greater unity, then the program is a success. Since this an "ounce of prevention" kind of thing, and the sewer project is the "pound of cure", I will lay a bet that this ratio is indeed greater than one and thus the program is worth the money."

Fair enough. We don't have any data to say even that.

If you want to argue that the measure of success is so small as to be unmeasureable, then, well, you (or David C) wins. But I win also, since you might as well have said it was a success before you even passed the law.

I think if the bag tax had been sold this way up front - we expect a 0.1% improvement in the river - it might have met with a little more resistance.

by Jamie on Feb 29, 2012 9:57 am • linkreport

We wrote the law because the use of plastic bags was believed to cause a problem.

Not 'believed.' Known. And not a problem, but many problems. the River aspect is just the most public. Simply reducing waste is a perfectly laudable goal.

by Alex B. on Feb 29, 2012 9:59 am • linkreport

"Not 'believed.' Known. And not a problem, but many problems. the River aspect is just the most public. Simply reducing waste is a perfectly laudable goal."

I agree. As I have said, I don't really have a problem with the bag tax. My objects were largely intellectual. It has proven to be at most a minor inconvenience, and there are other benefits. But this is irrelevant to whether it has accomplished its stated goals.

I really, really, don't understand why people who claim to care about the environment, have no interest in analyzing, empirically, what effect this legislation has had. Legislation that was specifically sold as solving a particular problem, and is in fact called the Anacostia River Cleanup Act. Having nothing to do with how great it is to keep 200 million bags out of landfills or whatever, there's still that issue of what we set out to do: clean up the river.

Likewise, I still don't see why people think you can call something a "success" if they don't believe in the necessity to measure the results in any way, or apparently, even have any possible scenarios in which it could be considered a failure.

If a measure can only succeed, then it can neither succeed nor fail. And there appears to have been only one possible outcome under the criteria that some folks here are using. So at best we can say "we passed a law and the expected, legally mandated behavior is now happening."

But that was true two years ago.

by Jamie on Feb 29, 2012 10:10 am • linkreport

@Jamie, [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

What would have constituted NOT meeting the goals, at this point?

Asked and answered. Let me throw it back on you. How much of a reduction in bags in the river is needed for it to be a success? What was the stated goal for bag removal? How many bags did the lawmakers say it would reduce?

Would the original target have also been a success?

Yes, but less than what actually happened.

What if we had raised 8 million, and only stopped about 20% of bags. That would have been a lot of money to clean up the river. Also a success?

Yes. But even less so.

What, actually, would have been a failure in your mind? Anything at all?

Asked and answered

If changing the behavior turns out to have no impact on the river, for reasons we didn't anticipate (but, which I have deteailed in many plausible scenarios), then we didn't meet the goal.

Actually, there is no possible plausible scenario for this. There is no way that spending money on river clean-up and reducing the number of bags being input to the system can possible fail to make the river cleaner than it otherwise would have been. And since some of the money has gone to trash traps that we KNOW are catching trash, we KNOW that it is working.

We don't know how many bags still end up in the river because we haven't compared it to before the legislation in any empirical way.

But we have two organizations who measure such things who say there are fewer bags.

We wrote the law because the use of plastic bags was believed to cause a problem.

No. We know they were a problem. The 2008 study showed that. And so now people don't use as many plastic bags. And we have two reports that it has reduced bags in the river. According to a poll, stores report less litter around their stores.

Let's put it this way, when that new study comes in, what do you think the odds are that it will show no change in the number of bags in the river? 1 in 100? 1 in a 1000?

by David C on Feb 29, 2012 10:19 am • linkreport

I really, really, don't understand why people who claim to care about the environment, have no interest in analyzing, empirically, what effect this legislation has had.

No one has said they have no interest. It would be a good study and I'd be very interested in the results. But we already have enough data to call the law a success.

I still don't see why people think you can call something a "success" if they don't believe in the necessity to measure the results in any way

We have measured data. Number of bags used. Revenue raised. (And even trash collected). [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by David C on Feb 29, 2012 10:22 am • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

"Asked and answered"

No, you've not given any scenarios that you'd not have considered a success. You said every possible scenario I presented you with would be a success."

"Actually, there is no possible plausible scenario for this."

Enough said. You don't believe that there's any way the measure could fail. [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Jamie on Feb 29, 2012 10:28 am • linkreport

I really, really, don't understand why people who claim to care about the environment, have no interest in analyzing, empirically, what effect this legislation has had.

You have a higher standard of proof than most. When I assess this program, I observe that (1) the total number of bags sold has decreased by a factor of four; (2) there are far fewer bags blowing about on the street; (3) I am consuming far fewer bags than I did before; and (4) I see fewer bags in the river (note that these last three points are not quantitative assessments); so therefore, the program has reduced pollution. I think the case has been proven beyond reasonable doubt (I wonder how successful I would be at convincing fellow jurors).

by goldfish on Feb 29, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

"Let's put it this way, when that new study comes in, what do you think the odds are that it will show no change in the number of bags in the river? 1 in 100? 1 in a 1000?"

I have no idea. I'm not willing to make a guess.

I'd say it's entirely possible there will be no measurable change, since we know most bags come from outside DC.

I'd also say it's entirely plausible there's a substantial change.

I don't know. But then, I'm not claiming that the program has succeeded or failed.

by Jamie on Feb 29, 2012 11:09 am • linkreport

No, you've not given any scenarios that you'd not have considered a success.

Quoting me from above: Bag use remained the same or went up; and the amount of revenue raised wasn't enough to create grants for river protection or clean up.

You don't believe that there's any way the measure could fail.

Not with the advantage of data, no. We know if reduced bag use, and we know grants have been issued. And we know that some of those grants are reducing trash. And we know that people who measure trash are reporting fewer bags. Considering all of that, there is no way that it is failing.

by David C on Feb 29, 2012 11:22 am • linkreport

Regarding a followup study to the 2008 trash inventory that led to this initiative...

Advocates (me and others) have been clamoring for a followup study for some time. The challenge has been funding. But DDOE has announced it will be releasing an RFQ later this year to do the followup study, with the intent of seeing exactly what the reduction is in trash in the river and its tributaries.

We are awaiting that probably even more anxiously than some of you.

Thanks for the lively discussion, all. Look forward to continuing the conversation.

by Julie Lawson on Feb 29, 2012 4:04 pm • linkreport

most of my plastic bags wind up at Browns Station Road in PG County full of garbage. the rest are recycled with paper and plastic. IN Montgomery Co. you get a nickle back for every reusable bag you use so you already pay a double tax on plastic

by sly on Mar 8, 2012 10:36 pm • linkreport

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