NYC and Dallas Consider Plastic Bag Fees, but Do They Work?
Good news for the environment: This week, two more of America’s largest cities have either adopted or are seriously considering adopting plastic bag restrictions at grocery and retail stores.
1. New York City
The NYC Council is currently considering a bill that would place a ten cent fee on both plastic and paper grocery bags. Instead of a tax, the money would be kept by the impacted stores themselves, serving as an encouragement for customers to bring reusable bags to stores.
Though the aim is to eliminate plastic bag use, the rule would apply to paper bags so that customers wouldn’t just switch materials without changing their habits. Additionally, families on public assistance programs would not be subject to bag fees.
As it stands, the city goes through 5.2 billion single-use plastic bags in just one year, costing around $10 million alone just to haul them away to landfills.
Though certain members of the Dallas City Council fought for an outright plastic bag ban for a full year, a compromise was finally reached to charge five cents to customers for each one-time-use bag they accept at stores. However, bags at city events and facilities are banned altogether.
While stores will be able to keep 10 percent of the money from the fees, the other 90 percent of the money raised by the bag tax will be used to pay for 12 new employees to enforce the policy in the city.
Already, there are murmurs of an impending lawsuit. The plastic industry is obviously unhappy with Dallas’s decision, and Texas politicians are challenging the legality of the ban (which has held up in plenty of other states). For what it’s worth, the Dallas City Attorney said he is willing to defend the ban in court, should it come to that.
Do they work?
We’ve seen more than 100 cities throughout the United States make similar decisions against plastic bags in the past handful of years, so it begs the question: do they work?
Tatiana Alexandra Homonoff wrote her doctoral dissertation for Princeton University addressing that very question. After exhaustive observations of grocery stores, she concluded that bag fees did motivate about half of all shoppers to start utilizing reusable bags.
For additional data, The Denver Post collected firm statistics from places that have instituted the ban:
San Jose, California
- Plastic bag litter has decreased by 89 percent after the ban two years ago.
- Since the ban went into effect, 90 percent fewer single-use bags are used.
- The Capitol has seen a 60 percent reduction in bag use in just four years.
Luckily, the early indicators are that plastic bags are having a positive impact on communities and the environment. Hopefully these figures will inspire more cities to participate so that reusable bags become the norm throughout the United States.
Photo Credit: Kate Haar