Paper or plastic, it’s the question inevitably thrown at you every time you head for the checkout counter. The ecologically friendly answer: neither. Soon Washington D.C., and possibly other cities, may have you thinking twice about your decision.
We have all heard the arguments against disposable bags and the havoc they wreak on our environment, but here is a refresher: approximately 100 billion plastic shopping bags are used in the United States every year which can be attributed to an estimated 12 million barrels of oil required to make them. How good are we at recycling these bags? Not very, only 1 to 2 percent of plastic bags in the US are recycled. Paper bags do not offer much of an alternative. Americans consume more than 10 billion paper bags per year, amounting to 14 million trees being chopped down.
Plastic bags are also severely damaging to local waterways which has lead to the crackdown in D.C. An analysis by the D.C. Department of the Environment (DDOE) found that plastic bags account for 20 percent of the trash in the Anacostia River and 50 percent of the trash in its tributaries. In response, the city created a nickel tax on disposable paper and plastic carryout bags to take effect January 1, 2010. The tax is applicable to grocers, food vendors, convenience stores, drugstores and other businesses yet excludes bags used for newspapers, produce, hardware, frozen foods, plants, bakery items or prescription drugs. Business will keep one cent of the 5 cent fee to cover administrative expenses and the remaining 4 cents will be given to the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund. The proceeds of this fund will educate the public about the impact of the trash, provide reusable bags to District residents, and remove trash from the river. D.C. Chief Financial Officer, Natwar Gandhi, claimed the disposable bag tax will bring the District $3.6 million in fiscal 2010 revenue and could reduce the use of disposable bags by 50 percent in the first year of implementation.
Though San Francisco banned plastic bags outright in 2007, the District is leading the way as the first city in the country to impose a disposable bag tax. A few states may follow suit with disposable bag legislation of their own in the works: Hyde, Curritck and Dare counties in North Carolina with an outright ban, Maryland (25 cent tax), Texas (7 cent tax), and Seattle (20 cent tax).
For more information on disposable bag legislation around the country visit http://www.seattlebagtax.org/.