Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s office sent out a press release today announcing the launch of the “Skip the Bag, Save the River” Education Campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to "educate" DC residents about the 5-cent tax that they will be paying on every plastic and paper bag used to transport purchases from grocery stores and other retailers beginning in January of next year.
This legislation, introduced by DC Councilman Tommy Well (Ward 6), was sold under the auspices of cleaning up the environment, specifically the Anacostia River. Fenty’s announced campaign will encourage shoppers to use reusable bags and inform them about where to find them. Both Wells and Fenty either don’t see the fault in their own logic, or they think DC residents are pretty dumb.
First, the more reusable bags used, the less money that will go into the new Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund, which the revenues from this onerous new tax are allocated for. Actually, under this new policy, if Washingtonians really wanted to clean up the river they should ask for as many disposable bags as possible at the check out line, thereby ensuring that the river cleanup fund is flush with revenue from the new bag tax. Being the skilled politicians that they are, Fenty and Wells can argue their case with a straight face while knowing deep down that this is nothing more than a grab for more taxpayer dollars under the guise of "being green."
Second, as ATR pointed out in a Washington Times Op-Ed last month, bag taxes, where implemented, have provided no environmental benefit. In fact, Ireland saw a 10% increase in plastic bag usage after their bag levy went into effect.
Lawmakers and taxpayers in Philadelphia, New York City, and elsewhere have seen bag taxes for the farce that they are and have rejected proposals as such. Even the notoriously environmentally-minded Seattle voters resoundingly shot down bag taxes at the ballot just this past August.
Furthermore, as ATR has pointed out before, reusable bags, whose use Fenty and Wells seek to encourage, become easily contaminated when used to transport common household items. Tests conducted by a Miami news station found a reusable bag used to transport meat "covered with bacteria." A bag that had been used to transport produce contained "80 organisms of coli form." Coli form is bacteria found in the feces of warm blooded animals, not exactly something you want your groceries wading in.
If Fenty and Wells want to run a campaign that will actually help DC residents cope with the impending bag tax, they can start by educating them on how not to get sick as a result. After that they can move on to helping DC taxpayers understand the process for recalling dubious legislation passed by the city council and signed by the Mayor.