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Changing Behaviors

2010 December 16

By Lina Younes

At the beginning of the year, the District Bag Law went into effect in Washington, DC which required businesses that sell food or alcohol to charge consumers 5 cents for each disposable paper or plastic carryout bag. Of those revenues, 3-4 cents were destined for a new Anacostia River Protection Fund. The District of Columbia’s Department of the Environment (DDOE) has been administering the fund and has conducted a public awareness campaign to reduce litter in Washington, DC and clean up the river.

It’s interesting to note that at the beginning of the year many people were complaining about this new tax. Personally, while I support cleaning our waterways, I opted for skipping the bag on numerous occasions in DC especially for small purchases because I didn’t want to pay the 5 cents. So, now, nearly a year later, I was very curious to see the outcomes of the Bag Law. I contacted the DC Department of the Environment and would like to share the information with you.

Anecdotal evidence during the first year since this law went into effect points to a 50% reduction in bag usage in DC stores. Furthermore, non-profits, such as the Alice Ferguson Foundation, have reported a 60% reduction in the number of plastic bags collected at their watershed wide clean-up days. Furthermore, DDOE has collected $1,528,195.84 during the first three quarters of the year primarily through the 5 cent fee on disposable bags. According to DDOE, as DC residents become more aware of the new law, the need for public outreach and reusable bag giveaways will diminish. As the program moves to its second phase, funding will be destined to other infrastructure efforts, such as the design and installation of water quality structures that will remove trash and sediment from stormwater runoff, constructing green roofs and other water quality issues. The law includes other enforcement elements to ensure businesses are complying with the law.

Whether people have decided to use more reusable carryout bags to save the environment or to avoid paying the 5 cent fee is hard to tell. Nonetheless, the result has been positive in the sense that consumers are changing their behavior and benefitting water quality. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    December 16, 2010

    Who’s The Men To Change Behavior After The Prophets ?
    Not Men but Ladies. Thank you Moses, Caesars, Jesus, Buddha, Hitler, Mohamed, Marx, … those The Men whose successfully to change our behavior. Its meant, Their done be able made parts of the people in the world to reflect and to change of civilization, although unpleasantly by The Oppositions. But look the world now, “The Men” are failure….., automatically “The Ladies” shall change and lead the world for Futures Responsibility. Wait and see.

  2. Munakwa permalink
    December 17, 2010

    Great Paper I learn much from them

  3. Linda permalink
    December 17, 2010

    Five cents isn’t a big charge, but it seems to be enough to encourage a big change towards more “planet-friendly” behavior. I think as people adapt to the reusable bags they will like them a lot. I’ve been a convert for the past several years and I love my “stash” of reusables for many different reasons … they hold so much more than the flimsy plastic bags the shops offer I can use just one instead of two or more; I never have to worry about a blow-out; I don’t have the handles digging into my hands; and they are so much nicer-looking. This year, I’m thinking of “wrapping” my Christmas gifts in some really cute reusable shopping bags!

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