11 January 2010

Paper Or Plastic?

As you may, or may not, know, the new year has seen a new tax levied on the people of Washington, D.C. The purpose of this new tax is noble enough (to clean up the Anacostia River) but it is completely misguided and in all likelihood, like all other monies raised by government, will not be used for its intended purpose.

First, let's clear some things up. As stated in the legislation, this new tax was imposed
[t]o protect the aquatic and environmental assets of the District of Columbia; to ban the use of disposable non-recyclable plastic carryout bags; to establish a fee on all other disposable carryout bags provided by grocery stores, drug stores, liquor stores, restaurants, and food vendors; to give the Mayor the authority to implement rules and procedures to collect the fee; to establish a non-lapsing recurring Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund.
Got that? Non-recyclable plastic bags are now banned in the District. A new tax is levied on consumers. The mayor (and apparently, the mayor alone) enforces the rules on tax collection. And a "fund" is created to capture the monies raised by this new tax.

Second, this new tax will be carried out at retail establishments. What exactly is meant by "retail establishments", you ask? Well ...
"Retail Establishment" means any licensee under a Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Basic Business License category Public Health: Food Establishment Retail (D.C. Official Code Sec. § 47-2851.03(10)(J)) license or under an Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration off-premises retailer’s license, class A or B.
In other words, you will be taxed at any place that sells food or alcohol. Grocery stores? Check. Liquor stores? Check. Big-box stores? Check. Movie rental stores? Check. Take-outs? Check. Convenience stores? Check. Even restaurants doggie bags are taxed. Do you see the enormity of this new tax?

And let's not forget that you're already being charged for these bags by the stores in the first place. So you're paying for these bags twice. And you get no refunds or price breaks for bringing your own bags.

Big whoop, Diarist. I'll just go to Maryland or Virginia for my shopping needs.

Not so fast there, bub.
Maryland and Virginia lawmakers say they will push for 5-cent fees on disposable paper and plastic bags at stores, after the District this month became the first major city in the nation to impose such a fee.
The reasoning behind this, like the District, is for purely environmental reasons. Maryland and Virginia, like the District, want to do better by Mother Earth and need the money to do so. All good and fine.

Except history has shown us that lawmakers rarely spend money for what it was originally set aside (see Medicare/Medicaid, road tolls, gas taxes, et cetera). And in this present economy I understand that governments are financially hurting, but the people are hurting more. Five cents (per bag) might not be a big deal to our council members yet it is a big deal to the residents in our poorer neighborhoods.

And, let's be totally candid about this. This will do nothing to improve the well-being of the Anacostia River. I suppose that it is within the realm of reason that the District will actually spend all of the money raised by this new tax on cleaning up the Eastern Branch. But the Anacostia doesn't reside solely in the District ... its origins are in Montgomery and Price Georges Counties, Maryland. Good luck trying to get all of those various jurisdictions to play nice. Even if D.C. gets its act together and does its part, it will still have to continually clean up Maryland's mess as it floats downstream. Not to mention all of the creeks, wetlands, parks, sewer drains, and so forth that feed and support the Anacostia

Make no mistake. This is an impossible fight on which the city is embarking. It will take more than just money to fix ... it will take a total attitude adjustment of the people. And a new tax ain't the solution to that problem.


Anonymous said...

You do understand that even if you used 600 bags in the entire year (highly unlikely), it would still only cost you $30. The most practical way to change people's attitudes is to hit them in the wallet (like congestion fees). If I were you, I'd make sure to mention that in my blog. Also, Ikea has been charging for bags for years. It's better to ween people off of them anyway, it's such a waste.

Anonymous said...

Let's get this straight. It isn't a new tax. Calling it that just deludes and dillutes its purpose. By law the fee for bags must be spent solely on cleaning up the Anacostia. It may not be the solution, but it is definitely a start, don't you think?