January 1, 2010

Washington DC Residents To Pay For Plastic Shopping Bags

Washington DC residents will now be forced to pay a five-cent levy on each plastic bag issued at the checkout line, AFP reported.

The tax, which starts today, is the first such initiative in the United States.

It seeks to make consumers bear the brunt of clean up costs for the bags, which currently are dispensed for free with a customer's purchases.

The city says that plastic bags often end up clinging to tree branches, getting tangled in power lines, polluting rivers and clogging up storm drains.

Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the law in July to cut down on the disposable bags that foul the waterways. He said that one urban waterway, the city's Anacostia River, has been particularly befouled by the plastic shopping bags.

Maureen McGowan, interim director of the city's environment department, said their research shows that plastic bags are a major component of the trash in the Anacostia River.

"By taking disposable bags out of production and out of the waste stream, everyone who goes to the store can help keep the waters clean," McGowan said.

Part of the money collected will be spent toward cleanup of the Anacostia, Fenty noted.

"We want everyone to know that you can save the river, and five cents, if you bring your own reusable bag to the store instead," the mayor said.

The new law states that city businesses that sell food or alcohol must charge customers five cents for every disposable paper or plastic carryout bag.

It also requires that these bags be recyclable and carry a message encouraging recycling.

So far, the city government has distributed some 122,000 reusable shopping bags to elderly and low-income residents who complain that the levy will further hamper their limited spending power.

However, the American Chemistry Council opposed the rule, arguing that standard issue plastic bags already are reusable and work just fine.

The group called the new levy misguided and unnecessary.

It released a statement earlier this year saying: "Most major grocery and retail chains currently offer programs that allow shoppers to bring back plastic bags and all sorts of product wraps for recycling."