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Five Cent Bag Tax Wins Final Council Vote
The District gave its final unanimous vote in favor of charging a nickel for each paper and plastic bag that residents get from restaurants, pharmacies and grocers in an effort to clean up the Anacostia watershed.
The collections from the new 5-cent disposable bag fee, to go into effect after a citywide public awareness campaign and free reusable bag distribution to the elderly and low-income families, will flow toward a new cleanup fund for one of the country’s dirtiest rivers. City leaders had estimated up to $3 million to $4 million in the first year, and the food and liquor retailers will keep at least 1 cent of the fee each time it’s charged.
The city also recruited a corporate partner to help fulfill its first tasks under the new law. Safeway Inc., which has 16 D.C. locations, said it will donate reusable bags to a local nonprofit or two to dole out to 10,000 low-income families. When the bill was first introduced, Safeway had described itself as neutral on the issue. At that time, it had only suggested that the more expensive paper bags also be included in the fee — a suggestion city leaders incorporated.
The D.C. Council backed the bill, first introduced in February by Councilman Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, over protests by some retailers, Republicans, plastic bag manufacturers and even charities that rely on plastic bags to distribute donations, all of whom considered this an added hardship for businesses and customers during an already tough economy.
But Council members pointed to a recent analysis by the D.C. Department of the Environment, which found that plastic bags make up 20 percent of trash in the Anacostia River and 50 percent of trash in its tributaries. According to that same DDOE report, charging for plastic bags could eliminate up to 47 percent of trash in the tributaries and 21 percent from the river’s main stem.
“Many residents on both sides of the river supported this bill because they see it as a way to change our behavior to take greater responsibility for our environment,” Wells said after the unanimous vote.
A similar measure was the target of harsh words today in Baltimore, where City Council members had introduced a bill last fall that would charge a 25-cent fee for plastic grocery bags. City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake blasted the proposed bill today, describing it as “good intentions gone wrong.”