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NYC and Dallas Consider Plastic Bag Fees, but Do They Work?

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.

2. Dallas

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.

Austin, Texas

  • Since the ban went into effect, 90 percent fewer single-use bags are used.

Washington, D.C.

  • 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.

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Photo Credit: Kate Haar

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116 comments

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2:28PM PDT on May 18, 2014

Works for me. Many times I pick up an errant plastic shopping bag and fill it with other plastics and trash.

I have been against littering most my life.

2:54PM PDT on May 2, 2014

I remember when the seat-belt law became law in N.Y.S---we griped that we would never get used to it--it`s second nature now-----getting used to taking reusable grocery bags would be the same.

I wrote this quote many years ago--don`t know who wrote it-------goes like this:
"We treat the Earth as if we had a spare in the trunk."

Now it`s time to help our Earth! Take reusable bags shopping!!!

3:59PM PDT on Apr 3, 2014

People should get used to bringing their own tote bags by now or they are willing to pay for the store plastic bag. I saw people bought a huge or two loads full of food and stuff and didn't bother to bring their own bags or they can load directly into their car with boxes in the trunk. I love using my own tote bags, they are beautiful and sturdy, mostly to preserve the environment, less garbage and save mammals and all kinds of birds and animals. People should learn and read more on our own environment and have some concern, especially those who have children. In Europe and Asia every store charges the bags and some even charges the push cart and no one complains. We just have to learn to accept the changes that is good for our environment and for the next generation. In fact, we are already facing a lot of problems due to the overpopulation and short on sources. If people wonder why the world comes to an end, this is it!!! Welcome to the world of so many negative and non-care humans.

7:55PM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

Plastic bags should be done away with completely. I was reusing my paper bags back in the '70s, and once I learned about reusable fabric bags I switched to them. If you can manage to carry a bag full of groceries from the store, you can mange to carry the empty bag to the store in the first place. This is not an unbearable hardship, and if you can't afford to buy reusable bags I'm sure their are groups who would be willing to work on getting free bags to those who need but can't afford them.

11:12AM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

Just ban them!! People have to learn how to live without them! I use reusable bags since years ago... I don´t see the complication on this.... Petition signed

10:32PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

I think these plastic bag "laws" work,but i'm not all that sure just how much better these reuseable bags are,cause even though they last longer they also take more product to make them,and do people actually turn them in after their life is over or just throw'em out.

6:41PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

I think they do, more people in Toronto were saying no to bags when they had to pay 5 cents for them, I worked in retail for a bit when it first happened, less people were taking them.

12:46PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

No more plastic bags !!!

9:38AM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

Spain has introduced the policy of bring your own bags or get charged for plastic ones. It seems to work and if you forget and have left them in the car you can take the trolley/cart
to the car and empty it there.

7:06AM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

There are many reusable bags. Some just for produce that you can wash. Some canvass bags you can also wash. The bags for cold items can be rinsed or cloth washed if plastic lining. GET RID OF ALL PLASTIC BAGS. Has anyone seen what it's doing to our ocean creatures?? Goes for plastic water bottles too. Actually ALL plastic drink bottles. We must take care of our environment and keep plastic out of it.

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