D.C. Bag Tax Raises $2 Million; Short of Projection

January 5, 2011

The District of Columbia announced that the bag tax, a 5 cent charge for most plastic and many paper bags provided by retailers in the city, collected $2 million during calendar year 2010. From the Washington Post:

City officials had guessed the fee would raise $3.5 million to clean up the city’s Anacostia River before the end of 2010, but it has raised a little more than half that.

City officials said they were surprised so many consumers appear to have changed their habits, using reusable bags to carry their goods.

From our report in May 2010 on the bag tax trend:

In at least 15 states, bag tax proposals are pending (see table). Sometimes they are pitched as “fees” and sometimes as “taxes,” with important rhetorical, political and legal ramifications. In almost all cases, proposed bag taxes do not come close to meeting the definition of a fee. Even when pitched more honestly as taxes, they are likely to fall short of ambitious environmental clean-up goals.[…]

In Washington, D.C., how much environmental clean-up might be achieved by the bag tax? Plastic bags make up a little over 20 percent of the trash in the Anacostia River but over 45 percent of the observable trash in the Anacostia tributary streams, likely because of the vegetation (paper bags are thought to disintegrate in the river or before reaching the river). On streets, plastic bags are less than five percent of litter; paper products make up most street litter. Reducing plastic bag use might lead to the most observable effect by reducing litter in tributaries, but it can only lead to a modest reduction in total litter in the Anacostia River.

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