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

TEXT OF STORY

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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