Monday, January 4, 2010

Bag tax throw down on the Columbia Heights listserve

The Columbia Heights listserve is ablaze in debate after a poster said he was going to drive his hybrid to Maryland to shop rather than pay DC's new 5 cent per bag fee. More than 20 40 (and counting) responses followed, most of which argue against the original poster, who said it was unfair that the citizens didn't vote on the tax, and also mentioned that bag taxes supposedly do not work. He cited San Francisco and Ireland as examples of that, but after a brief search I can't find anything that says those two are failures.

Others responded saying he should bring his own bags, that Giant and other stores are giving them out for free, and that since the city council voted on the tax, he did have representation on it. Plus places like California where increases are voted on by the people or prohibited due to referenda now have terrible budget deficits.

Personally I think the bag tax is a good idea, and am kind of surprised by the opposition to it (which I've seen in comments here too.) We're taxed for lots of things we don't vote on -- sales tax, for instance.

Here's his first post:
I discovered something interesting this weekend while shopping at Target: I now will spend less resulting in less taxes collected by the city for my purchases. Why? I refuse to pay the 5 cent per bag tax. So I will only buy what I can carry in my own two hands. I usually spend hundreds of dollars a weekend at Target. Now I spend very little.

Fewer purchases = less sales tax generated = more money left in my bank account. And I am not alone.

I also now find it cheaper to drive my hybrid to the Safeway in Maryland to purchase groceries. I get 50+ MPG in my hybrid so an extra mile is nothing compared to 5 cents per bag. So Maryland will now get my sales tax money.

I also find myself ordering more things online now so that they can be delivered bag tax and sales tax free. The only problem is now I need to throw away all those boxes and packaging material. There is no tax on sticking it in my trash can.

So there you go City Council. Someone with a 6 figure salary has now made a lifestyle change because of the bag tax. Taxation without representation now done locally.

Here's to all the Amazon boxes now clogging the rivers.
Update: The City Paper writes about it too.


  1. It's been a while, but I thought I read in The Economist that San Fran's bag tax was succeeding.

  2. That post you quoted pretty much sums up why I avoid those listservs. Thank god I don't know any people in real life who are that fussy and self-important.

    There was a South Park episode about hybrid drivers and it sounds like they may have been inspired by this guy...

  3. If the guy is talking about driving up to the Safeway in Silver Spring he's either lying or the jokes on him, because that place is terrible. If you ever shop there be sure to check the expiration date of whatever you're buying because they leave post-expiration food on the shelves.

  4. The Giant in Silver Spring is super nice if Mr. Hybrid decides to head there. Either way, the Giant on Park Road is giving away free reusable bags tonight due to the bag tax.

  5. mean where disposable bag usage dropped by 90% when their bag tax went into effect? Is he upset it wasn't 95%??

    I actually wrote to Mayor Fenty saying I wanted a bag tax to be instated.

    Though, uh, personally... spending several hundred dollars per weekend at Target? How? That must be some horribly wasteful living, so if he's cutting back and only buying what he can carry, that's good in my book. When I shop, I buy only what a single reusable bag can carry, and no more. This means about $25/wk in groceries at Giant.

  6. yeah i agree with Brandon Green he said right that San Fran's bag tax was succeeding.

  7. You are all wrong. In Ireland the use of bags did not go down in the long run (the 90% was a short term thing). The problem is that while people may use reusable bags right now. In time they will get lazy and just say "It's only 5 cents." So there will be more bags used as a result. To truly be effective the rate would have to be economically not viable like $5.00 a bag.

  8. @ Anonymous: The bag tax is not primarily about conservation (getting people to use less bags), it's about cleaning up the Anacostia river. I'm sure the DC council would like people to use less bags, since they make up a significant portion of the trash in the river, though there would be less bags in the river without any decrease in bag use if thoughtless idiots would stop just dumping their trash wherever they happen to be on the street.
    The river cleanup costs money, and people paying the bag tax ("eh it's only 5 cents times a few bags") are providing that money. I think you're right that the 5 cent tax won't spur a big reduction in bag use because it's too low a tax. If the DC council decides that it wants to move its goal from being primarily to raising funds to clean up the river to pushing for a reduction in disposable bag use, then increasing the tax will work just fine.

  9. I think the City Council should just use its own over-paid salaries to pay for cleaning up the Anacostia River. What are they doing for my tax dollars?

    Thumbs up for this guy. Maybe he should run for mayor!!!!

  10. If he became Mayor, he might see a cut in his six-figure income...

  11. San Francisco doesn't have a tax (or a fee, which is what ours is). They have an outright ban, but it only applies to large grocery stores. So it's not an apt comparison anyway.

  12. I really don't mind the bag tax, just as long as there's some muscle thought behind it. A lot of stores are only carrying one size bag now; it's fucking ridiculous. There's no reason a small pack of mushrooms should be put into a 4 gallon bag.

    It seems wasteful for a law that's supposed to curb being wasteful.

  13. Most of the places that were charging me for bags for lunches stopped. So either they no longer care about the law or they are just absorbing the costs.

    Either way the law is starting to fail. But then does that surprise you for D.C. government?


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