Saving our planet; one bag at a time

February 24, 2009

I say tax plastic bags. Bob Dylan would probably agree.

In an article in the D.C. Examiner Harry Jaffe invokes Bob Dylan’s famous song to remind us just what’s blowin’ in the wind nowadays. Plastic bags.

Or, he continues, floating by if you are on the Anacostia River or the Chesapeake Bay. Or washing in on a wave at Rehoboth. Or mucking up your drawers and closets.

We are awash in plastic packaging. My desk is adorned at this moment by a balled-up white plastic bag. I have nearly severed fingers cutting through plastic packaging on toys and gadgets. Don’t even start me on Styrofoam.

But he has an argument against D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells who’d like to levy a 5 cent charge for each bag used at a grocery or drugstore.

He believes the charge will only affect poorer folks.

Wells and the eight other council members who signed onto his bill have plenty of support from the green corps. San Francisco has banned plastic bags, and the city reports that 75 million fewer bags showed up in the waste stream. Ireland instituted a 19-cent fee on bags, and usage dropped 90 percent, according to environmentalists. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to charge 6 cents a bag; Los Angeles City Council has voted to ban bags in July 2010.

Why not flip the equation? Why not pay people a nickel for each bag they recycle? Why would that not achieve Wells’ goal of cutting usage and also encourage people to pick up trash? A twofer!

Wells tells me Giant Food already pays for bags. Bring bags to Giant and the store will credit you 5 cents each or trade used bags for clean ones.

“That works well,” he says, “but it’s still best to stop source point production.” As in make fewer bags.

Me, I agree with the councilman. People don’t like coughing up money, even 5 cents, for things like plastic bags.

I suspect it will be more effective than Harry’s idea. But giving an incentive to folks who bring their own cloth bag is not a bad idea at all.

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