5¢ bag fee for D.C.?

February 19, 2009

Paper and plastic bags will soon cost District consumers five cents, if legislation proposed by D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) on Tuesday passes. Most of the revenue from the fee will go the Anacostia River Clean-up Fund.

The legislation would apply to any businesses that sell food or liquor. Most businesses would retain one cent per bag to cover administrative costs, although businesses with carryout bag credit programs will get two cents back.

According to Wells’ Chief of Staff Charles Allen, a recent analysis has shown that plastic bags account for 50 percent of the trash in the river’s tributaries and 25 percent of waste in the main stem of the Anacostia. Allen said the bag fee could reduce the amount of trash in the river by 47 percent in the tributaries and by 21 percent in the main stem.

“The cost of doing nothing is pretty clear: we keep a polluted river in the city,” Allen said. “It’s D.C.’s river, and we can’t eat the fish out of it. We can’t swim in it.”

Allen also said the Environmental Protection Agency will soon begin to fine D.C. for exceeding the allowable amount of trash in the river and the D.C. Water and Sewer Administration already removes 500 million tons of trash from the river annually, at a cost to D.C. taxpayers.

Shari Jackson, of Progressive Bag Affiliates, a subgroup of the American Chemistry Council, an organization that represents paper bag manufacturers, said the bag fee would not have the desired environmental effect and is financially imprudent, especially in the current economic climate. Jackson recommended expanding recycling and litter prevention programs.

The bill was cosponsored by 12 of the 13 Councilmembers, which Allen sees as “a pretty strong sign of support.”

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