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DC shoppers getting used to new bag law

JTS wrote, "I was just at the Giant on 8th street, and the policy seems to be having a positive impact already.

Photo by nadi0.

"The cashiers are informing customers of the fee, and the customers in front of me (express line) just decided to carry the 3 or 4 items they had instead of using a bag. No stress, no complaints. In the five minutes in line, it seemed like probably 10 or 20 bags were not used where they otherwise would have been. I think that is change for the better."

The District Department of the Environment has a FAQ about the law (via Housing Complex), answering questions including some that came up here. The bags that enclose produce don't count, nor do paper bags for taking food home from a restaurant that has indoor seating. However, there will be a charge for bags from takeout-only food establishments.

Bread for the City is disappointed that needy residents aren't getting as many reusable bags as initially promised. Some donors have stepped in and provided extra bags.

The Washington Post did residents a disservice with its article on fees that lumped this together with the new Saturday parking charges. The parking fees were a budget-closing measure, plain and simple, but this was not; the law specifically allocates all revenue for environmental cleanup.

Some of you fear that the Mayor or Council would try to raid this revenue stream for other budget needs in the future. Perhaps it would have been safer, but more complex, to create a separate authority that received the money, keeping it out of the political process. However, we can ensure nothing happens to the money by holding elected officials to their promise to use the revenue for environmental cleanup.

Nobody has yet suggested breaking that promise, and hopefully they will never even contemplate such an action. The Council did twice uphold the promise that revenue from performance parking would go to the local neighborhoods around the ballpark and in Columbia Heights, despite the Mayor's attempt to reprogram that money in the last two rounds of budget cuts.

Other commenters decried this entire enterprise as just another government tax. I see this as something very different. Classical economics says that markets are the most efficient way of setting prices and matching buyers and sellers, but there are several key ways markets can break down. One of the most common is externalities, when the behaviors of the buyer and seller negatively impact an uninvolved third party. And the most well-known externality is pollution.

In the ideal economic world, externalities would not exist. If the actions of a buyer and seller harmed me, I would be able to extract compensation. But with bags, society incurs two costs. First, recycling each bag costs the city money, which all taxpayers share. And second, if the bags blow out of recycle bins or people discard them on the street, they end up in rivers and create a cost to everyone in cleaning them up.

The best way to account for these externalities is by charging at the moment they occur. DPW could inventory everyone's trash and present a monthly bill for the direct cost or environmental impact of disposing of the waste, and cameras or little RFID tags could track every polluting bag back to its most recent owner. But this is impractical and likely undesirable for privacy reasons.

A much simpler solution is to embed the cost of cleanup in the cost of the good itself. While you could reuse a bag multiple times, sooner or later it will become trash and will incur some disposal cost. If the end user pays the disposal cost at the time of purchase, it can raise the money necessary for that disposal and also create an incentive to minimize unnecessary use.

It's true that this doesn't distinguish between those whose bags end up in the river and those whose bags go directly to recycling, and that's suboptimal. But there is a cost even for recycling, and having shoppers share the cost of the river cleanup proportional to their bag consumption is at least a few steps closer to the ideal than having all taxpayers share that cost.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Not that I'm stating anything new, but the phrase reuse reduce recycle has "recycle" at the end, not the beginning. This will hopefully become more and more apparent, as we think this whole enterprise through.

Recycling definitely is costly. The idea should be to avoid generating so much waste in the first place. And you really can keep washing and reusing plastic bags.

by Jazzy on Jan 2, 2010 12:50 pm • linkreport

Jazzy, curiously enough, the way I've traditionally seen that phrase is "reduce, reuse, recycle" ("reduce" first). Better even than reusing waste is not to produce it in the first place. Hopefully DC's bag program will help with that.

by Gavin Baker on Jan 2, 2010 1:09 pm • linkreport

Are you saying that the 5c bag tax did not cause cessation of economic activity, an exodus to the suburbs, and riots?

by SJE on Jan 2, 2010 1:30 pm • linkreport

Interesting read about the mid to long term effects of the bag tax in Ireland:

by Lance on Jan 2, 2010 3:18 pm • linkreport

I went to the store yesterday, no problems. People either knew about the bag fee already and brought their own bags or simply shrugged when the cashier explained why there was an extra five or ten cents added to their receipt. I didn't see or hear a single complaint.

And while it's pretty reasonable for people to take their reusable bags to the grocery store, I wonder how the bag fee is going over at convenience stores and fast food joints that disproportionately serve poorer populations and where you're less likely to bring a reusable bag. I'd be interested to hear how that's going.

by Adam L on Jan 2, 2010 3:36 pm • linkreport


by Lance on Jan 2, 2010 3:39 pm • linkreport

Gee, Lance, the bag industry has some documents arguing that bags are great and anything that limits their use is terrible? I'm so shocked!

by David Alpert on Jan 2, 2010 4:02 pm • linkreport

Lance, the plastic bag manufacturers' association would not be my first choice for unbiased information and comprehensive reporting. But let's go through the arguments:

1) plastic bags make up only a small portion of the litter on our streets.

Surely solving some of the problem is better than solving none. And in any case, the problem isn't litter "on the streets," it's litter ending up in waterways:

2) People who used to use "free" bags (not really free, since all shoppers subsidize them) are now buying bags for their kitchen waste, kitty litter, etc.

Yes, I suppose if other people have been subsidizing the costs of your plastic bags and now the subsidy stops, you'd be bummed... don't see why that's a reason to reject the bag tax though.

3) Taxing plastic bags discriminates against the low-income and elderly.

A popular assertion, but as usual, no evidence is given. Surely any elderly person able to carry a full bag back from the store is also able to carry an empty bag to the store. And re-use is free. A PC straw man.

4) Switching to paper is even worse.

Possibly true; but the DC tax doesn't encourage this.

5) Not using plastic bags as "markers" encourages theft.

Anyone who wants to shoplift using a reusable bag as a prop can already do so. I have faith that grocers' anti-theft departments will be creative enough to adapt to new circumstances and challenges.

Oh, and of course it's a good idea to wash any produce you buy at the store - your grocery bag is the least of your worries when it comes to bacteria.

by Erica on Jan 2, 2010 4:05 pm • linkreport

I read a number of the studies on the carrier bag tax and the all make the following criticisms:

1. Banning plastic bags doesn't work because people simply use paper.

2. The production of paper bags cause greater environmental degradation than plastic and neither product is truly biodegradable in a landfill.

3. The level of environmental pollutants caused by the creation and subsequent use of disposable bags is minuscule in comparison to an individual's total environmental impact.

4. Litter generated from plastic bags is a relatively small percentage of total waste.

I think the D.C. law addresses many of these concerns quite nicely. D.C. taxes both plastic and paper, but bans neither. There's no need to worry about people simply defaulting to the more environmentally-destructive paper bags. And while plastic bags may only be a small percentage of total litter in some places (their study cited largely pristine Norway as the prime example) we here in D.C. have direct evidence that plastic bags are a significant environmental hazard in our own rivers and streams. In fact, you don't even need a study to tell you that, just walk along Anacostia Park...

As for the study about the microbial study of reusable bags is hilarious. The study showed that older things that have been in use for a long time in a non-sterile environment are no longer sterile. Thanks for the info. Remarkably, their study refuted a key point that would make reusable bags a health hazard: of all the things they found (non of which were particularly worse than reusable Tupperware that actual comes into contact with food), they could not find E. coli or salmonella in any of their samples. Those findings, especially in regards to salmonella (the single most common bacteria in food poisoning in the United States) is absolutely shocking to me. Having said that, I do think that reusable bags are a breeding ground for bacteria and mold. Reusable bags should therefore be thrown away just like we toss out other common bacterial breeding grounds such as telephones, computer keyboards, refrigerators, kitchen sinks, bathtubs, doorknobs, and washing machines.

by Adam L on Jan 2, 2010 4:42 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure I understand - you toss out keyboards, refrigerators, sinks, bathtubs (??), doorknobs and .... washing machines? Why?

Goodness, you can actually clean these things you know.

And, of course you can always launder re-usable bags.

by Jazzy on Jan 2, 2010 5:27 pm • linkreport

Comments on the Post article (bags & parking, not the sucky party) were hilarious--typical metro DCer whining. My guess is that it will have little effect on retail in the District and that may lead the more progressive suburban jurisdictions to adopt similar laws. The ones here reiterate the nonsense that has been circulated by wingnuts about microbes, failure of bag bans, environmental hazards of paper bags, etc. Somehow, Europeans have managed w/o having salmonella outbreaks.

Carrying all manner of bags seems oddly popular among women in the area, which makes me think the learning curve will be relatively short, although it would have been better if major chains had done a one week transition rather than a one-day on New Years Day, a relatively light day for retail.

Bread for the City's complaints just seem like typical begging from community orgs. I know it sounds harsh, but there's a point where all this kind of stuff runs together and charities usually never have enough of something that's needed for their work.

by Rich on Jan 2, 2010 5:37 pm • linkreport


To anyone else who may or may not have picked up on it, that last line was sarcasm. :-)

by Adam L on Jan 2, 2010 5:37 pm • linkreport

Just got back from the Columbia Heights Giant and I am still shaking from the experience.

Crossing the street I was nearly run over by a caravan of buses, taxis, and cars all filled with people heading to Silver Spring to do their grocery shopping. When I finally got inside the mob scene was like something out of Mad Max. Strangers, lovers, families were hitting each other, tearing at each others' clothes and fighting over the last plastic bag left. Shoplifters were scooping items off the shelves into their Whole Foods "I Love Planet Earth" bags with impunity and strolling out the door.

Cashiers and customers were screaming at each other but their curses were unintelligible over the loud Phish music blasting throughout the store. The scent of patchouli was everywhere but it could not drown out the stench of injustice.

When I left the store I saw a little old lady huddled against the building... rocking back and forth and weeping. When I asked what was wrong she said she had caught salmonella from a dirty cloth grocery bag and could not afford medical treatment after paying 10 cents extra for plastic at the checkout counter. I offered to give her 10 cents but she only hissed at me. It was then the scarf fell away from her face and I realized it wasn't a little old lady at all - it was Grover Norquist!

I thought this was strange until I saw several men hurrying up the sidewalk toward us. Yes, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Sarkozy had finally achieved their secret aim of taking over the DC government and imposing socialism on us all. As Norquist was hauled away in communist chains he shouted out "I warned you!" but by then it was too late...

(What really happened was that the cashiers were putting everyone's purchases into huge numbers of Giant reusable bags and said they'd be free until the 7th. But that doesn't make as good a story.)

by Erica on Jan 2, 2010 6:07 pm • linkreport

As I understand it, all of the grocery stores in the District were completely empty today. If the smoking ban hadn't killed all of the bars and restaurants in town, maybe those lonely retailers could have gone somewhere to drown their sorrows.

by Matt W on Jan 2, 2010 6:18 pm • linkreport

"She and fellow food service worker Antionette Joyner had just finished shopping at a Target in Columbia Heights. "Five cents? You gotta be kidding me," said Joyner, 46, who struggled to carry her cat food and other items. "It's crazy. They're just going to lose customers. No one wants to pay five cents." "

The post seems to have inserted a piece from the onion into their article by mistake.

by J on Jan 2, 2010 8:04 pm • linkreport

Speaking of the new parking rules.... what exactly is "downtown?" I can see for these purposes this extending much greater areas than the traditional downtown. Has this been addressed by DC?

by Oliver on Jan 2, 2010 8:21 pm • linkreport

@J, It's not the money. It's the principle of the thing. No one wants to feel like they're being used. I'm sure the person quoted in the Post article is very representative of how most people feel ... and will react.

Most people can see through the 'Let's clean the Anacostia' b.s. ... Even those screaming it the loudest know that this tax isn't really intended to do that ... or even able to.

by Lance on Jan 2, 2010 8:46 pm • linkreport

So, using the same reasoning as the bag tax, when can we expect DC to impose a fee for parking validation? Shouldn't the people who need parking pay for it and not fold the cost into the general cost of goods and services? After all, Giant won't comp my subway ride. Put the money raised toward the streetcar.

by Steve S on Jan 2, 2010 10:05 pm • linkreport

The externality argument for the tax only works if you actually litter. If you don't litter, it's irrelevant since there is no significant negative externality.

Plastic and paper bags are only a small component of trash and recycling that the city collects. If we are to believe the argument that we should tax anything that "will incur some disposal cost", why stop with plastic and paper bags? Why not tax store receipts, the Washington Post, and Street Sense, all of which will be discarded after two or three days (how wasteful is that!?)? Why not tax computer paper and paper tissues or candy wrappers? Diapers and milk cartons? Shampoo bottles?

We could go on ad naseum, but for those who don't litter, our "disposal externality" is similar to that of any other product not subject to this new sin tax. Perhaps we could raise the clean-up money by taxing everything not intended for internal consumption.

I suspect that targeting bags is more of a political fashion statement and symbolic measure than it is a serious and intellectually honest attempt to clean the Anacostia.

The tax is like reading the book of Leviticus: a, b, and c are sins but x, y, and z are not simply because the powers that be have found their tastes aligned mysteriously against the former group but not the latter.

Alas, in Washington the strange prejudices of political fashion and old-time religion have more in common than you'd think.

by Eric F. on Jan 2, 2010 10:58 pm • linkreport

SW Safeway was business as usual today: long lines (but no longer than the normal misery), but nearly everyone brought their own bags. Some were cloth, others plastic brought from home, and many just stuck stuff straight into their wheely carts.

The only funny thing was the recorded announcement playing about the new law, which explained the 5 cent fee would go towards cleaning the "AnacostiC" river.

by Stacy on Jan 2, 2010 11:36 pm • linkreport

Eric F.,

You're only half right that the externality argument works only if you don't litter, because littering is only one of the negative externalities that results from plastic bag consumption (use of petrochemicals, recycling/disposal costs, etc.). But littering certainly is a problem for some part of the population, and we can't selectively tax the people who are most likely to litter (for practical reasons if nothing else).

As for the "why stop at plastic bags?" argument, you have an excellent point. In an ideal world, we would tax everything at the price that accounts for its negative externalities (economists call this a Pigovian tax). But in the real world, doing so is often impractical (just imagine trying to administer a tax on Street Sense). A lot of the other things you mentioned are in fact taxed with sales taxes, and the jurisdictions that collect those sales taxes use those funds in part to pay for garbage collection, street cleaning, and the other public costs of littering.

Taxes are a necessary evil, and from a public finance/economics perspective, the plastic bag tax is a pretty good one.

by Alan on Jan 3, 2010 12:57 am • linkreport

To add to what Alan said, there are 2 additional good reasons to add this fee for bags and not other items:

1. Bags are a demonstrated pollution problem, while other items are not;

2. Bags are particularly easy to replace with an alternative, whereas most goods are not because people actually want that good. In the case of bags, almost nobody is at the store to get the bags; they're at the store to get the stuff that goes in the bags.

by David Alpert on Jan 3, 2010 9:22 am • linkreport

"In the case of bags, almost nobody is at the store to get the bags; they're at the store to get the stuff that goes in the bags."

That's not quite factual. The bags are part and parcel of the goods being bought in the same sense that no one rides the metro to ride the metro but rather to get somewhere. Without the actual metro train to ride, you can't enjoy whatever it is you're planning to enjoy at your destination. Without the bags, you can't buy whatever 'bagful' of groceries and other items you're planning to buy at the store.

by Lance on Jan 3, 2010 10:00 am • linkreport


It would not be considered an official DC program without at least one typo. I am sure they did that to make DC government shoppers feel at home.

by Mark Holland on Jan 3, 2010 10:12 am • linkreport

(Do I risk encouraging a troll-a-thon? Probably.)

Lance, you mean THOSE bags, right? Because of course we can't bring our own train to lay on the tracks and have it go. But we can bring our own bags.


And David - I'm not so sure that plastic bottles aren't as great a pollution problem as plastic bags. Not to mention Styrofoam and take out containers. All of those things are remediable, perhaps not easily.

But for example, there was a store that used to sell water that was fresh and not DC water - you just had to bring your own container. I used to do that all the time.

You can easily bring your own tupperware to a deli or take out restaurant.

by Jazzy on Jan 3, 2010 11:06 am • linkreport

If, in 3 to 5 years' time, there's no noticeable decrease in the amount of pollution in the Anacostia River, will all the plastic bag tax advocates acknowledge the tax did not have the intended effect and support its repeal?

I mean, we already know that once politicians find a new revenue source, they're highly unlikely to ever get rid of it. But if the tax could clearly be seen as not having the promised effect, would the commentariat concede the attempt didn't work and support ending it?

Or, more likely, would they argue that either: A) not enough time has been given to get an accurate assessment of the tax's effects; or B) even if the effects have not worked out as originally promised, it's still important to "do something" about Anacostia pollution?

by Fritz on Jan 3, 2010 11:40 am • linkreport

I would say, as I say now, there must be some way to measure the success of this plan. There has to be a way we can tell if there are more or fewer plastic bags in the streets, in the river, etc...

Can we count on grocery stores to give us a before and after picture, for example? That might be one way.

Also, we can look to other cities to see what they have done - both nationally and internationally in terms of ways to measure.

by Jazzy on Jan 3, 2010 12:12 pm • linkreport


I am just one person - but I have significantly cut down on the amount plastic I take in/waste - all kinds of it, not just plastic bags.

Assuming that there are three or four others in my building who have done likewise, shouldn't we be able to assume that net plastic output wise, it's less overall for my building than it was before?

by Jazzy on Jan 3, 2010 12:15 pm • linkreport

Alpert's never seen a big-government program that he didn't like.

by MPC on Jan 3, 2010 12:19 pm • linkreport

@MPC - Highways?

by Ben Ross on Jan 3, 2010 12:36 pm • linkreport

"A much simpler solution is to embed the cost of cleanup in the cost of the good itself."

Are you insane?

by Greg on Jan 3, 2010 1:54 pm • linkreport

"The best way to account for these externalities is by charging at the moment they occur. DPW could inventory everyone's trash and present a monthly bill for the direct cost or environmental impact of disposing of the waste, and cameras or little RFID tags could track every polluting bag back to its most recent owner. But this is impractical and likely undesirable for privacy reasons."

Actually it was the inventory of everyone's trash idea for which I wrote the question: Are you insane???

by greg on Jan 3, 2010 1:57 pm • linkreport

Eric F. you're absolutely right. Come join me in California where most items made of plastic has a fee attached to it (CRV and other fees). Buying a new computer monitor, for example, comes with a $16 fee for recycling, and most plastic containers have a 10 cent fee.

The screen fee is discussed here

I dont see why Washington shouldnt do the same.

by J on Jan 3, 2010 6:12 pm • linkreport

J: When I'm looking for a responsible legislature, meaningful legislation, and sound fiscal policy, I always look to California.

by Mike S. on Jan 3, 2010 7:28 pm • linkreport

touche Mike!

btw, I just wrote my councilmembers the following:

Dear Councilmembers:

If my grocery store chooses to give me bags in which to carry home my groceries that is a decision which the Council has absolutely no business interfering with.

If you need to raise more revenues, do it honestly by raising tax rates or instituting taxes that do not try to social engineer how I choose to do my shopping.

I will be doing my grocery shopping in Virginia or Maryland until this ridiculous tax is repealed.

I encourage other concerned citizens to do the same.

by Lance on Jan 3, 2010 7:34 pm • linkreport

Lance, Virginia taxes food at a 2.5% rate. If you spend more than $2, you're losing money.

If you live in my 'hood, a drive to Maryland is about 10 miles, round trip. If I guess your car gets 20 mpg, and gas costs $2.80 a gallon, then the drive there and back would cost you about $1.40. That would buy you 28 plastic bags.

Just sayin'.

by Matt W on Jan 3, 2010 7:55 pm • linkreport

Sorry, I didn't finish my thought. If you spend more than $2 *per bag*, Lance, you're losing money. At $60 a week on groceries in Virginia, you would be taxed $1.50. That would buy you 30 plastic bags back in robber baron DC.

by Matt W on Jan 3, 2010 8:05 pm • linkreport

@Matt, It's not the money ... it's the principle of the matter. Read the other comments on this blog including David's. Today they're adding a tax to grocery bags, tomorrow they'll be working on adding a tax on something else which they don't approve of. It's social engineering. It's not good. Much more is at stake here than the 5 cents. And I don't think anyone on here would disagree that the 5 cents is the least important issue at stake here. We just disagree on whether a self-righteous minority has the right to impose its unproven and untested 'solutions' on others. It reeks.

by Lance on Jan 3, 2010 8:15 pm • linkreport

@Matt, Additionally, you're assuming I'd have to make a special trip to the 'burbs to go shopping. I realize there are some folks who live/work/play in DC exclusively ... but I'd guess that that is not the general rule. Most of everyone I know spends a significant amount of time each week outside of the District ... working, playing, eating etc. Actually, I already do a lot of my shopping outside of the District because of the ease of parking. This tax will only further push my shopping out of the District. And I live in the District. What about the folks who don't? Will that MD federal government worker stop of at the Giant in Shaw on their way home ... or wait till they cross the District line back into MD? You're assumption that people are 'stuck' shopping here is very telling as to the mindset that developed this tax both in it's authoritarian mindset ... and in its mis-guided thinking that 'everyone is just like me'.

by Lance on Jan 3, 2010 8:34 pm • linkreport

It's the principle of the matter. Read the other comments on this blog including David's. Today they're adding a tax to grocery bags, tomorrow they'll be working on adding a tax on something else which they don't approve of. It's social engineering. It's not good.
From the Washington Post article

"Lawmakers in Virginia and Maryland have said they will introduce similar measures in legislative sessions this year."

We just disagree on whether a self-righteous minority has the right to impose its unproven and untested 'solutions' on others. It reeks.
Google poll on DC bag tax
from an blog
"In D.C., a poll of District residents, conducted in June, 2009, indicated that they were ready to accept a tax on plastic bags because the bag tax is designed to limit pollution in the Anacostia River and its tributaries. Proceeds will be used for the Anacostia River Cleanup Fund. The poll was reported in the Washington Post.

Do you support D.C. legislation that would levy a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags?
Yes 55 percent
No 44 percent"

by Jazzy on Jan 3, 2010 8:36 pm • linkreport

@Jazzy, Thanks for the poll stats. This bill hardly had 'full support' ... huh? Factor in also that this was asked before it was actually enacted ... and I think you'll find that the few who really want this are even fewer than the 55% in your poll ...

You know it doesn't take 'everyone' to oppose something loud enough that the Council will reverse itself on misquided legislation, it just takes a 'good amount' of opposition. And judging by the way I saw people re-acting in our local grocery store today when I went by it .... they're going to have their mailboxes filled with complaints.

by Lance on Jan 3, 2010 8:45 pm • linkreport

And yet, I saw people just going about their business. Neither ecstatic nor p.o'ed. Just regular, you know?

I guess it all depends on your perspective.

I'll be sure to send the Council congrats for enacting this legislation, they need to hear from all of us who support it. Even Graham reversed his initial opposition.

by Jazzy on Jan 3, 2010 8:48 pm • linkreport

@Jazzy, Thanks for the poll stats. This bill hardly had 'full support' ... huh?
Huh, yourself.

I never mentioned the words 'full support.' Your trolling slip is showing.

But the council did unanimously approve it, FWIW.

Oh, and it wasn't 'my poll.'

by Jazzy on Jan 3, 2010 8:56 pm • linkreport

Btw, I've already heard back from one councilmember ... and as I'd suspected they're already distancing themselves from this legislation ... pointing the blame toward Tommy Wells ... where it does rightfully belong.

by Lance on Jan 3, 2010 8:57 pm • linkreport

Do tell.

Don't be so coy.

Let's hear all the details.

by Jazzy on Jan 3, 2010 8:59 pm • linkreport

Lance, it's a sin tax. Sin taxes have a long and glorious history, and federal and local taxes are replete with all kinds of social engineering, from the mortgage interest deduction to progressive income taxation. Choosing the nickel bag fee as your line in the sand is pretty comical.

by Matt W on Jan 3, 2010 9:01 pm • linkreport

Not that my opinion matters, given that I am of the permanent minority party in D.C., but it's like this:

*I'm not sweatin' a nickel a bag ... I don't buy *that* many groceries in the course of a month, and I can afford 25 cents here and there.

*I own plenty of reusable bags already.

*BUT ... I still resent this because it's one more g*dd*mn thing to make my life more complicated. Now there's something I have to carry around in my purse, something I have to remember to carry from the car into the store, then back from the kitchen to the car after I unload. I am about at my breaking point in terms of everyday life annoyances just by living in this dysfunctional excuse for a city, and adding something else ON ME just because a bunch of people on the other side of town are so triflin' that they throw their sh*t everywhere ... THAT is just annoying.

I don't live anywhere near the Anacostia River. I don't look at it, I don't deal with it. I don't litter, but if I did, my litter wouldn't go into it. I use plastic bags from the grocery store to pick up my dogs' poop, so I hoard them jealously rather than throwing them to the wind to be pollution.

Now the government has decided that because other people do something lazy and dumb, *I* have to be inconvenienced.

In principle, simply ridiculous.

by mccxxiii on Jan 3, 2010 9:02 pm • linkreport

We just disagree on whether a self-righteous minority has the right to impose its unproven and untested 'solutions' on others. It reeks.

Glad to learn you're now in favor of repealing the zoning ordinance, Lance.

by tt on Jan 3, 2010 9:14 pm • linkreport

You guys are the reason I hate DC.

It's a bag tax. Bring a bag to the supermarket. Get a life. I mean - seriously? You need to care about this? Do you not have better things to do with your time?

Between the douchebags threatening to take your shopping to Virginia because of "the principle," to mccxxiii complaining about how this makes her life oh so inconvenient.. I mean, how fricking entitled are you people? Oh wait, she's saying she's a Republican, so that answers that question.

Grow up. You people are the reason America's quality of life is so low and falling further behind the rest of the rich world every year. If the simplest, most minor imposition on behalf of society makes you this miserable and bitchy, then why don't you go buy a ranch in Paraguay or the Central African Republic, where you can buy off the government and do whatever the hell you want, with no one to bother you? In the meantime, you live in a society; it has rules, and if you don't like them, you still have to deal with them, just like everybody else.

by Jason on Jan 3, 2010 9:21 pm • linkreport

Lance clearly can't deal with a majority being sufficient for something to have "support" and if he really cared about externalities, other people wouldn't have to do the math or point out even more egregious, regressive taxation (VA's food tax). Finally, he resorts to the "emotional pleas" of some straw person who is too burdened to spend a nickel or a dime extra to stop at the Shaw Giant. And parking as an impediment to shopping in DC? Maybe if you're buying overpriced luxury goods in Georgetown, but not a problem for any number of DC supers--H-T, any Giant, most Safeways, etc.

Externalities matter when they're really visible. When I lived in DC during the 90s, I never did "big shopping" at Safeway, despite there being one 2 blocks away. Why? Their shelf prices were 10% more in DC than in the suburbs--that meant $4-5 a trip that was saved by going to Giant. Now, a nickel or a few--not such an issue.

by Rich on Jan 3, 2010 9:41 pm • linkreport

"Now the government has decided that because other people do something lazy and dumb, *I* have to be inconvenienced."

Yeah, at the least they should have picked the Potomac as their 'poster child'.

But then, of course, people would say 'but it's clean ???' ... 'oh, maybe there really isn't a connection between a litter problem and the conveniences my grocery store provides me ... '

oh the webs we weave when we practice to deceive ...

by Lance on Jan 3, 2010 9:46 pm • linkreport

mccxxiii: Your trash certainly does end up in the Anacostia even if you don't live near the Anacostia. The issue is not just stuff blowing into the river from the surface. Sewers also flow into the Anacostia during heavy rains. So no, it's not just about "a bunch of people on the other side of town."

by David Alpert on Jan 3, 2010 9:51 pm • linkreport

Now the government has decided that because other people do something lazy and dumb, *I* have to be inconvenienced.

Absolutely. An individual should be able to get out of having to comply with any regulation if they can prove they would safely perform the behavior being regulated in the absence of the regulation. For example, because my family taught me how to drink responsibly starting at age 12, I should have been exempted from the minimum drinking age. Also, because I've never had an accident, never gotten a ticket, and never driven while impaired, I should be able to drive as fast as I want -- after all, I wouldn't do it if it weren't safe, right? All laws should be applied on a person-by-person basis, not across the board.

If you're upset because other people's laziness and stupidity are costing you money, you may want to take it up with the lazy idiots in question, not the people who have to clean up after them.

by cminus on Jan 3, 2010 9:55 pm • linkreport

@David, From what I can find (on the DCWASA site), the offending sewers that drain into the Anacostia are all in 'River East' (aka Anacostia).

So, no, mccxxiii's trash does not end up in the Anacostia River because of the problem with storm sewers ... which incidentally, DCWASA is in the process of correcting. But the Anacostia River is indeed sick. But it's sick for a number of reasons of which trash from River East getting into it from the sewer system is but one small part:

This Anacostia 'poster child' rationalization for imposing the bag tax (and inconveniences) is a lie. Pure and simple.

by Lance on Jan 3, 2010 10:07 pm • linkreport

Does somebody have "before" photos of lots of plastic bags in the river or littering the streets?

by Michael Perkins on Jan 3, 2010 10:08 pm • linkreport

Lance makes a great point. While some of the litter on the Anacostia is plastic bags from DC, much of it is not. We should work to identify where all the trash comes from, and then seek to adjust policy in the District and Maryland to minimize the litter and find appropriate revenue streams for cleanup money. A five-cent bag fee in Maryland, for instance.

by Matt W on Jan 3, 2010 11:01 pm • linkreport

@Matt, Alternatively, those of you who care about the Anacostia could raise money among yourselves to clean it up. I have other pet causes ... I don't force you to contribute to mine, please understand why it's wrong for you to force me (and others) to contribute to yours.

by Lance on Jan 3, 2010 11:22 pm • linkreport


it's really not that complicated. like, at all. get a few and leave them all over the place if that's what it takes. one in the purse for the quick runs, or unexpected errants, a few hanging by the door and a few in the car. if you leave them in the car accidentally, you'll either run back out or you'll pay a few cents for new bags and remember next time.

i hope dc people will start to realize how ridiculous the obsession with plastic bags is. let's say you go to cvs to buy a new tube of toothpaste and some advil. you get a chocolate bar in the checkout lane. you're going right home and/or you have a large purse (or briefcase, or messenger bag). why do you need the cvs bag? it's insane! (true story--happened to me the other night. i just gave the bag back to the cashier, placed my items in my purse and left).

by Catherine on Jan 3, 2010 11:52 pm • linkreport

@ Catherine ... actually, I *do* have a huge purse (backache size), and I *do* just throw things in there and skip the plastic bag when I only have a few items. Been doing that long before the bag tax became an issue, and long before I moved here. And I would guess that about 50% of the time I remember to bring my big reusable bags out of the car and into the grocery store.

My annoyance is not with the execution of this new law. My complaint is a matter of principle.

I resent the government placing yet another imposition on me because of other people's lazy, stupid misbehavior. Same as how it's a pain in the a** now to buy good Nyquil because of the meth-cooking trash out there. I would rather the government spend its time (and *our* resources) stopping the people who are exhibiting the bad behavior rather than making things more difficult for everyone who isn't doing anything wrong.

by mccxxiii on Jan 4, 2010 10:27 am • linkreport

When all the people complaining about the bag tax could easily be the fake "American Voices" commenters in the Onion, that's a pretty good sign that there's nothing to see here.

by hugo on Jan 4, 2010 10:30 am • linkreport

Ha. Nice, hugo.

Maybe we can add job titles below our names. I want 'systems analyst'.

by Alex B. on Jan 4, 2010 10:37 am • linkreport

I ordered sushi last night, had it delivered, and paid 10 cents for the 2 plastic bags used. The 10 cents appeared as an additional line on the receipt, and the person who took the order let me know when I placed the order how many plastic bags would be used and how much it would cost. I asked the delivery bag if people were complaining; he said he hadn't gotten any complaints, but that it was a big pain for his restaurant to re-do their billing system and keep track of the tax's payments. Thought that was an interesting perspective that hasn't come up in these threads.

by Fritz on Jan 4, 2010 1:07 pm • linkreport

Fritz, you should have told them to absorb the 'fee' for the bags. After all, they have the option of bringing you your order in a reusable bag ... right? and isn't modifying behavior so that disposable bags stop being used what this whole tax is supposed to be about? ;)

by Lance on Jan 4, 2010 2:07 pm • linkreport

Why did you need plastic bags at all? Could they just not have handed you the food and then you just plunk it down onto a plate? It was delivery, right? Someone brought it to your door. Door to kitchen requires a plastic bag?

Sorry, I'm not trying to be difficult, but I just don't see the need.

by Jazzy on Jan 4, 2010 8:58 pm • linkreport

And a key principle in play here is that with something with a value of zero (formerly plastic bags), you can expect people to treat it as ... litter.

by Jazzy on Jan 4, 2010 9:02 pm • linkreport

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