The Nickel Bag

April 9th, 2010

Inspired by District’s bag tax pulls in $150,000 (Washington Post 3/30/10), Pigou and the Plastic Bag (Donald Marron 3/30/10), Semi-lucrative bans might just catch on (Plastics News 4/02/10),  Washingtonians are bailing out their river, not their government, with bag tax (Media Matters 4/08/10), Paper or Plastic? Oil or cream? ( 4/09/10), Update on the DC Bag Tax (Pick Up America 4/09/10), and other articles referenced below. Definitely NOT inspired by the smug drivel contained in Tax Mania Happening Everywhere! ( 4/09/10).

The plastic bag tax is making a difference.

That nickel per bag is having an influence.

As less-than-expected $150K was raised in January,

But that’s not bad (on the contrary).

A little bit less money has been collected

Because people have cut back more than expected.

But if that level of collections keeps up,

That’s $1.8 million per year for Anacostia clean-up.

That’s less than the projected $2.5 mill., but still good,

And besides, the bag tax itself is doing what it should.

Bag use has been reduced by 87 per cent,

Or over 230 million bags per year that won’t to the landfill or river be sent.

Plastic bags are almost half the 480 tons of trash per year that go into Anacostia basin streams,

So their reduction makes the bag tax a big success, it seems.

A survey undertaken when the program commenced

Showed 46 percent in favor and 49 against.

Where I live (in Northwest DC),

Six in 10 residents are in favor (like me).

So environmentally and fiscally, the program is a success,

And an important step, solid waste and littering problems to address.

Though some residents still aren’t wildly enthusiastic,

Over time I think they’ll learn to live without that plastic.

PS to Don:

I love that you talked about the Pigouvian tax

(I won’t go into what that is, so you non-economists can relax).

That reference warmed the cockles of my policy wonk heart

And really set your article apart.

PS to Pick Up America:

I too sometimes walk around

And pick up trash I see lying on the ground.

But you guys have done with that concept is ingenious:

Whoever thought of it must be a genius.

Keep up the good work,

Until (hopefully) people stop littering and put you out of work.


PS to Brigid:

I agree it’s nice when people do what’s right on their own,

But one doesn’t accomplish much based appeals to conscience alone.

One can be both an optimist and a realist too,

But it’s best to give people an incentive to do the things they should do.

PS to NIKFlorida:

Good job in taking Fox News to task

(I’m anti-Fox too, in case you had to ask).

I have a go at them myself some below

(They’re a common theme in my blog, you know).

PS to the Bag Lady:

I appreciate the extent

Of your environmental commitment.

But I had one question

About your suggestion

That the tax be much higher,

Like Seattle did require.

Usually environmentalists like me

Tend to agree

With a higher environmental fee.

But though such fees can incentivize action,

They can also create dissatisfaction.

That can cause programs to fail

As apparently happened in Seattle.

The idea is to set the fee to equal the environmental harm,

But not be so high as to cause public alarm.

PS to Bryan the bag-tax hater and other opponents:

Are you still upset

That you unlimited free bags can’t get?

Are you still driving to VA

To shop at a store miles away?

Are you still refusing to pay a tax

Designed to reduce environmental impacts?

Have you realized that you can now actually reduce your grocery bill

Since if you bring a reusable bag, most stores pay you a nickel?

Please, show some common sense,

And don’t worry about that damn five cents.

PS to Fox News:

Your knee-jerk reactions against taxes of any kind

Makes me feel the need to remind

That taxes are not an anti-democratic penalty,

They’re the “price we pay to live in a civilized society.”

And another thing about the nickel and dime taxes you mock:

They wouldn’t be necessary if the GOP didn’t block

Even minor income tax escalations

To maintain crucial government operations.

But though as a tax-and-spend liberal I hate to disappoint,

Your article and news reports (as usual) have missed the point.

The DC bag tax’s main goal is not revenue augmentation;

The bag tax’s main goal is behavior modification.

And I loved your report about how plastic bags really aren’t so bad.

No wonder taxing them makes your viewers so mad!

PS to Plastics News: 

As you say, your industry has “miles to go” in “polishing its environmental record,”

So to suggest you’re an innocent victim of DC’s bag tax is absurd.

The problem with plastics, Mr. McGuire, is that they last and last,

Which makes them a product not of the future, but of the past.

I am in favor of your making products that are biodegradable,

So you should switch to that whenever you’re able.

In the mean time, please stop lobbying against the solution

To the problem of plastic bag pollution.


Here’s Fox &  Friends’ misleading and (as usual) factually incorrect report from the show yesterday (courtesy of Media Matters).


A propos plastics, I can’t help but include this famous scene from that excellent and timeless film, The Graduate, which also provides your theme music for today, Mrs. Robinson by Simon & Garfunkel.



Want more? Please also read and comment on my earlier piece, Paper or Plastic, one line from which I have recycled into this post (fitting, since all plastic things should be at some point recycled rather than just discarded when they’re old).

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One Response to “The Nickel Bag”

  1. Fox and Friends is “confusing” and “ridiculous” « I have a theory about that… Says:

    […] (or already enacted) excise taxes really bothered me, not just because it grossly misrepresents a bag tax in Washington DC, but because it misrepresents excise taxes in general. You can watch the video of the segment for […]

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