WASHINGTON (CN) – In January, Washington, D.C., became the first city in the nation to impose a mandatory fee for both paper and plastic disposable grocery bags as part of an environmental effort focused on cleaning up the Anacostia River.
Since the New Year, businesses must charge customers five cents per bag. One cent will go to the business and four cents is typically invested in cleaning up the Anacostia River, funding the distribution of reusable bags, and educating the public about litter.
The Anacostia River runs through the District of Columbia and has been plagued by raw sewage and other pollution, like grocery bags.
Businesses that offer a rebate to customers for bringing their own bags can keep two cents. The return for businesses was put in place to dampen resistance to the fee by store owners.
Income from that fee is estimated to reach $3.6 million in the first year
“It encourages people to bring their own bags and it raises consumer awareness about how detrimental plastic is,” said 22-year-old Lauren who did not want to give her last name. While she said she usually shops with her own bags, Lauren said the fee helps her to remember when she would have forgotten to bring one along before.
Twenty-year-old Zachary said he doesn’t approve of the fee because it’s not effective. “The price is not a deterrent,” he said. “It’s too small.”
A 59-year-old man who declined to give his name altogether spoke against the fee. “It probably discourages people from shopping in the district,” he said, adding that it gives the perception that the city is unfairly extracting an additional fee.
He nonetheless said that the fee has influenced his behavior. “I have not paid a bag fee to date,” he said.
Other skeptics of the fee said that Washington is a walking city, noting that it is often difficult to cart around a reusable bag all day.
Apart from a few exceptions, the law – which the D.C. Council unanimously passed in June – applies to all stores that sell food or alcohol.
Bag fee proposals are prevalent throughout the nation, but the District of Columbia says it’s the first to pass such a measure.
San Francisco was the first to ban the use of disposable plastic bags by large retailers, including supermarkets and pharmacies, in 2007. North Carolina likewise banned the use of plastic bags in some counties last September.