City Council may impose 5-cent fee on plastic or paper bags

As part of a last-ditch effort to clean up the Anacostia River, a new law in the District may charge a fee for using paper or plastic bags.

Legislation introduced in the D.C. City Council last week would levy a 5-cent fee on each single-use plastic and paper bag used by shoppers at all grocery, liquor, drug and convenience stores. The proposed legislation strives to reduce trash in the Anacostia River, the majority of which is attributed to plastic carry-out bags in the river’s tributaries.

Revenue from the initiative, submitted by Councilman Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, would go toward the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund, which serves to clean and protect the Anacostia River through projects and public education initiatives. The money will provide reusable bags to the elderly and low-income residents.

“We are trying to do point-source reduction by eliminating the trash before it even enters the system. We looked at other strategies and a fee has been the best way to address the problem,” said Charles Allen, Wells’ chief of staff.

The the bill is currently being referred to committees for review, and public hearings will most likely take place at the end of March, Allen said.

A 5-cent fee has proven effective in reducing the use of plastic bags at other establishments which have imposed the rule, Allen said. Placing monetary value on plastic and paper bags forces consumers to think twice about the necessity of these environmentally damaging items, he added.

“We have all been in a situation where the retailer just starts double bagging and we don’t think to stop them,” Allen said. “This puts the choice back into the hands of the consumers.”

Some argue that the fee will only increase the financial burden of grocery shopping, “especially during these tough economic times,” Allen said, but supporters say the legislation is a necessity. The District will face severe fines if the Anacostia River exceeds the level of allowable pollution set by the Environmental Protection Agency – which would be paid through tax dollars.

Delbert White, store manager of Safeway at the Watergate Shops on Virginia Avenue, expressed support for the bill.

“If we have to clean up the Anacostia anyways, at least this way people will adopt the habit of using reusable bags,” he said.

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