Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thinking Outside the Bag

Currently, the District is considering imposing a 5 cent bag fee on both plastic and paper bags. Information can be found at trashfreeanacostia.com.

Here is a snippet from their release:

“Every year, 20,000 tons of trash enter the Anacostia River leaving a polluted, dirty and neglected river bordering our neighborhoods. According to the latest report, plastic bags, bottles, wrappers and Styrofoam make up 85% of the trash. In the tributaries of the Anacostia, such as Watts Branch, nearly 50% of the trash is plastic bags.

DC taxpayers spend millions every year cleaning bags and trash out of the Anacostia River. And soon, the EPA will establish heavy fines for the District every time trash exceeds its limit in the River — just about every time we have a heavy rain because of the city's outdated sewer system. The District has a great recycling program, but even with this, every bag recycled costs taxpayers money and bags still litter the River. The bags also cost stores money, raising the price of our groceries and other goods.




There's an alternative. Already, many stores sell low-cost durable, reusable bags. Some, like Giant, even give a credit if you bring back old bags instead of using new bags. Costco stopped offering bags years ago, and discount food stores like ALDI and Save-A-Lot, and even IKEA, charge customers a nominal fee for every bag — greatly reducing the number of plastic and paper bags used and encouraging customers to bring reusable bags. We need a small incentive to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags and to get cashiers to ask whether a bag is even needed.

New York, Seattle, and many European nations have already required, or plan to require, a small charge for plastic and paper bags. These initiatives have dramatically cut down on these single-use bags — by as much as 90% in some places. Councilmember Tommy Wells, along with many of his fellow Councilmembers, will be introducing a bill to place a nominal 5 cent fee for each plastic and paper carryout bag. The bill also requires that any single use carryout bags that stores use must be recyclable. The bill creates a new Anacostia River Fund that uses the fees to cleanup and protect the Anacostia River, transforming it into a positive, contributing asset where people feel safe to fish, boat, swim and enjoy.

This new initiative is great for the Anacostia River and great for our small businesses. We can take major steps to clean the Anacostia River on our watch, and businesses can be a part of the solution to reducing the number of bags that enter the trash and environmental streams. Reducing the number of bags used reduces the costs to businesses that provide the bags, and it saves taxpayers by cutting down on trash and recycling costs, environmental cleanup costs, and EPA fines.”

To make matters short, if you are a Georgetown student who has studied abroad anywhere in Europe, you have probably already experienced a bag fee, and it did not pose too much of a burden on you. There are a few easy options in this case:

1) REDUCE: Buy a canvas bag or other sort of reusable tote. More and more stores are selling these nowadays, and they tend to be cheap (if you are not looking to buy an elaborate, custom-made one). You'll make a small investment, and they will last you a long time. They also can have other purposes. For example, I use mine as duffel bags, per se, when I go home for breaks because, just as they can hold food, they can hold clothing.

2) REUSUE: If you don't want to have to buy a bag of your own, then why not just bring back the plastic bags you already had? Take a few bags, tie them up, squash them together, and you have a pretty light plastic bag ball that can easily fit in a jacket pocket.

3) RECYCLE: The last option is to just pay the 5 cent tax. 5 cents per bag will not have a noticeable effect on your grocery bill. If you have four bags a week, that will only total 20 cents, and for all 52 weeks of the year, that is just over $10--negligible in light of the overall cost of the grocery bill. And, when you are done with the bag, recycle it. Although the plastic bag recycling industry is weak because there is no use for the recycled plastic from the bags yet, you can still put them separate of both trash and recycling here in the District so that, one hopes, something good comes from them. Perhaps they will just get burned for fuel as the trash on campus does.

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