Saturday, January 02, 2010

It’s in the Bag

Yesterday, a new law took effect in DC that requires consumers to pay a five cent fee for plastic shopping bags making it one of the toughest environmental measures in the country.

It’s a dam good one too in my opinion.

According to this article by Annie Gowan in The Washington Post today, “Americans use billions of plastic sacks every year, and only a fraction are recycled.”

“The D.C. Department of the Environment found in a recent study that 47 percent of the trash in the Anacostia's tributaries and 21 percent in the river itself is plastic bags.”

Anyone who has ever spent time cleaning up stream beds know that this true. When Jean-Michel Cousteau spoke in Baltimore back in October he singled out plastic shopping bags as one the more egregious environmental hazards that could easily be addressed by getting consumers into the habit of taking their own reusable bags to the stores.

Gowan reports that similar legislation is will be introduced during Maryland’s General Assembly session this year.

I’d much rather see our legislators putting their energies into this type of initiative rather than those that pander to the license beverage association and limit consumer choice.


Sarah said...

I also like the fact that businesses get some of the fee and the rest goes toward environmental cleanup. Time to take some responsibility.

Sarah said...

Hopefully they'll enact something similar here... though Giant's 5 cent reusable bag coupon is similar.

Anonymous said...

In places with higher population densities and more pedestrian travel (meaning more time spent outdoors on the street) like the Anacostia watershed, more people pollute spaces not specifically "belonging" to them, especially dropping convenience items, whether its bags, wrappers, or bottles and cans. There are, however, places around the globe where, either due to climate, culture, truly robust public transit systems, or very visible and substantial enforcement measures (the last two of which require substantial ongoing public funding), such higher rates of litter are noticeably avoided.

Mercer HR compiled a list.

Also of note would be looking at the effect of Ireland's disposable bag tax, which resulted in a net increase in plastic bags entering landfills (and greater sales of packaged plastic bags to replace those store bags that were being reused for things like picking up pet waste).

Regarding supposed limiting of consumer choice (vs. protection of communties' qualities of life), I can say without equivocation that there is a greater incidence of litter in places where liquor stores are patronized by pedestrian consumers than where no liquor store exists at all. I believe county law should be amended to require liquor stores, fast food restaurants, and convenience stores to have a certain density of outdoor trash cans on their property and, if accessible by public street or community path, have establishment-financed placement of trash cans and recurring collection from them along those pedestrian routes for a certain distance. That doesn't mean that solely car-accessible convenience item establishments don't also have a similar litter effect, as evidenced by the road crews we all see regularly picking up roadside litter, too. The public pays for the roadside litter to be collected via these crews, but the pedestrian litter all too often goes unaddressed for far longer periods, sometimes even years.

Bob O said...

WB, agreed.

Anon, great comment, well put. The tragedy of the commons continues.

My liquor store--wine shop, actually--only uses recycled paper bags.

This is the kind of issue that has an effect on us all and does not get much attention. Thanks, WB.

Anonymous said...

Last Spring, I cleaned two garbage bags of trash from the stream behind my townhouse in the King's Contrivance section of Columbia. Much of the trash was plastic grocery bags. It would be wonderful to get not have so many floating around.

Anonymous said...

In most cases, you're already paying a fee for "free" plastic grocery bags - it's just built in to the higher cost of the products purchased. Some stores, however, don't provide supposedly "free" plastic bags by default and instead pass on the savings to the consumer.

Anonymous said...

I'll be the one naysayer - for us catowners, those plastic bags are ideal for used litter, so I hate to see movement toward getting rid of them altogether. But I'd be willing to pay a fee to get them, my cats are worth at least 5 cents a day. Most days anyway.

Anonymous said...

Like anon, I use the bags too. Also when grocers are thinking about promotions they might consider giving away fabric grocery sacks when you reach a certain dollar amount spent at their store.

Dave W said...

We've been using the reusable bags for years, mostly because they make it easier to carry things from the car into the house than the plastic ones. I got two large Harris Teeter bags a while ago (I don't think they even sell them this large anymore since the cashiers comment on the size of them on a regular basis) and can usually fit my entire grocery shopping into both of them. The same shopping could take eight or nine plastic bags. The only limit to the amount of stuff I can put in them is the weight and whether we can actually physically carry them. But we never have to worry about the bags tearing....

Plus if you use the U-Scan it thing that Giant has (I wish Harris Teeter would add that), you can scan and bag your groceries as you move through the store and be in and out of the store much quicker than waiting for some cashier to bag the groceries for you.