D.C. stores charging 5 cents to bag it

Marcia Levi, co-owner of gift store Chocolate Moose in Washington, D.C., stands at the register near a sign explaining the city's new 5-cent fee for using a disposable bag.

Inside the Chocolate Moose store

A sign next to the cash register at Chocolate Moose explainsthat the store has to charge 5 cents per bag


Steve Chiotakis: A new law in Washington, D.C. requires food and grocery shoppers to pay for their bags. It's the only major city in the country with a mandatory fee. The city says bag use is down dramatically because of it. Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: In Washington, it's no longer paper or plastic. It's,
"Do you want to pay for a bag?" Food stores have to charge 5 cents for any bag. The money goes towards fishing plastic bags from Washington's clogged Anacostia River.

Washington lawyer Ken Jacob never pays for a bag, even if that means a delicate balancing act:

Ken Jacob: I haven't done it myself, although it's only a matter of time, but I've seen people drop their sodas in opening doors and stuff like that.

I've done some balancing myself. I like to buy a cup of soup to bring back to the office. I never, ever pay for a bag. Part of it is, I'm cheap. But I also want to do my bit for the environment. Whatever the reason, shoppers at food stores here only used about three million bags in January. That's down from about 22 million a year ago.

Marcia Levi is co-owner of Chocolate Moose, a Washington gift shop:

Marcia Levi: I would say 80 percent of my customers are now declining to purchase a bag for five cents.

At first, Levi didn't think the bag law applied to her. She only sells chocolate on the side. A lot of other merchants were confused. Pleasure Place sells edible body frosting. Did it have to charge the 5-cent bag fee? Yup.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells says expanding the law could clear up confusion:

Tommy Wells: To go ahead and just say it covers everybody that uses disposable bags. That may be the solution.

So all Washington stores would charge 5 cents a bag, no matter what they sold.

Clerk: Do you need a bag?

Nancy Wilkinson: No actually, I have a bag. Thank you.

Back at Chocolate Moose, Nancy Wilkinson is buying some cards. She brought her own reusable bag. But, she says, that bag won't always do.

Wilkinson: If you're buying a dress at Talbot's or something, I mean would the chances of you having an appropriate bag to bring it home for something you paid $150 for is probably not reasonable.

But paying to bag that dress might become reality, and not just in Washington. The Maryland legislature has considered a 5-cent bag tax.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

Inside the Chocolate Moose store

A sign next to the cash register at Chocolate Moose explainsthat the store has to charge 5 cents per bag

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That is a brave and intelligent move by D.C stores. We should support shops like these which fight for the sustainability of our planet. They have set the example and in my opinion other shops also must follow their system.

The tax bag will have a big impact on the bag sales figures, 80 percent of customers declining to purchase a bag for five cents is something none of the legislator thought it would be possible. I usually make all my shopping on-line but I am glad that this new law in Washington, D.C was voted, a person that helped me to make an order from http://www.urns.com/solid-brass-collection.html told me it would be good if the money from the 5-cent bag tax would be invested in environmental project rather than giving them to the general fund to pay for other services.

Only problem with the article is that the mayor has not said that they WON'T use the money for cleaning up the river. Rather he has decided (without public debate) that our taxes will now go to the general fund to pay for other services.

This has just turned in to another way to capture our pockets, failure to deliver promises and ignoring the fact that we need to control spending.

Bags? Why stop at bags? Why are "Bottle Bills" in only in effect in few states like Maine and Michigan? I fought for a bottle bill in Illinois back in the '70s and it was overcome by the industrial lobbyists.
Why is it that one of the most indistructable materials the we have invented (plastic) is used for an item that is thrown away after one use (beverage bottles)? There should be a tax on any throw away plastic item.

If you can afford a $150 dress at Talbots you can probably fork over 5 cents for a bag -- at least in that instance, no?

Would love to see this rolled out nationwide.

Grocery-shopped in Canada during our vacation & was politely asked if I'd like to purchase a bag for my items. It's so simple and so effective; I wish the U.S. would have been first to do this, rather than lagging behind others.

China started doing this at least 18 months ago. (I've been teaching English here for 3 years now.) ~ Way to finally catch up, America! (hee hee)

I love this bag tax! When it comes to Ohio, maybe I will finally begin to use all of those reusable bags I carry around in my van. Bring on the bag tax!

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