City Desk

Unsolved Mystery: How Will Bag Fee Work With Self-Checkout?

The District of Columbia is about a month away from having to pay five cents a pop for its plastic bags, and some details are yet to be worked out.

Such as: What about the self-checkout facilities increasingly populating city supermarkets—how are they going to work with the bag fee? After all, there's no human to control the bagging process there. Who's to stop some earth-hating customer from triple bagging his junk and absconding with 45 cents worth of free polyethylene?

Human oversight? Defeats the point of self-checkout. Honor system? Would certainly be dishonored. Complicated technological contraption? That would be complicated.

City Desk phoned the two largest operators of self-checkout facilities in the District—Safeway and Giant. Neither, according to their respective spokespersons, have yet figured out how to implement the bag fee at self-checkouts.

Safeway spokesperson Craig Muckle describes a behind-the-scenes Manhattan Project-like effort at his employer. Corporate executives have had several meetings on the matter, he says, and are close to working out a solution.

Though Muckle says he's been in on the talks, he declines any of the possibilities in detail—though he does mention that a solution icould pontentially involve human employees who are currently tasked with overseeing the self-checkout stands at Safeway stores.

Same goes for Giant. That dominant local grocer is also undecided on a solution to the self-checkout quandary, spokesperson Kim Brown says: "We are working on a couple of different options, but we'll definitely have a system in place."

Brown, too, declines to details what those options might be. But she gives some parameters: "We're hoping that it's going to be simple for customers to use and easy for us to track."

Read: They have no idea! PANIC!

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  • Rick Mangus

    Bend over people of Washington the fucking begins this January, you allowed it and now you got it!

  • Fred

    It's a good thing. So what if it is not perfect? It's better. It's a step in the right direction. This doesn't seem like it would be so hard to do. Has anyone used google to see what other stores - California - have done?

    It would seem that there are solutions out there.

  • Skipper

    People actually think the revenue from this will be used to clean up the Anacostia? It's going to be used to plug budget holes, not to pick up floating plastic.

  • Fred

    Well, whatever. Less plastic = good thing.

  • Rick Mangus

    Skipper you got that RIGHT, that money as I have said before in this paper will be used for someones pet project or to close a budget gap.

    Fred are you going to pay for the five cents for every person on low and fixed income and the people on food stamps who are already taking a hit even before this goes into effect? It's more than not perfect, it's a crime and it was shoved down the throat of the people of the District of Columbia by a arrogant mayor and city council who had no hearings on this matter.

    Less arrogance, less bull shit, = a good thing.


  • Lea

    I don't see the problem. People voluntarily tally their food. So they should voluntarily tally their bags.

    Most people will be honest. Few people won't and risk embarrassment from the people who check off the purchases.

  • Tim

    We have this same charge in Toronto. It has been implemented on self service relatively simply on the voluntary basis mentioned. Many other retailers in Canada also do this without a tax imposed. I understand the upset around it, as we had the same issues here, however one can very simply step around the 5 cent tax by not using a bag or bringing one's one bag. Using own bags has become common, freeing up untold space in kitchen drawers.

    On the down side, the awe inspiring scene from the film 'American Beauty' with a plastic bag floating on lazily the wind is less common.

  • Rick Mangus

    Tim I am going to give you a civics lession on the DC Government. We have what's called coruption, arrgance, self serving, and crooked elected officials in this city. They try to come off as liberal enviromentalist but they are phoney as the day is long. This money will be used in the future for some mayor or council members pet projects, not at all related to what it was intended for. It has happen before here and will happen again. The people of this town keep blindly voting the same people back in because they are a democrat or black. Hell remember this is a town that voted a crack head criminal back in as mayor in the 90's. I hope in Canada it's better.

  • Comrade Al Gonzales

    This is a great tax. Next, raise the tax on rich people's income to 90%, then raise the tax on their houses to ten times what the average person pays. For "second homes" the tax rate will be 100 times what the average person pays.

    Tax the rich every time they turn around. Impose a luxury tax on all cars that cost above $18,000 - slap on a 30% luxury tax. For cars above $30,00, tax at 100%. Tax all boats on an annual basis of 20% of the boat's cost. Etc.

    Tax the rich. Tax the rich. Tax the rich.

  • R S

    Question to the non-"earth-hating customer", what do you use to bag trash in your home?

    For me, this seems like a lateral move. Either I use plastic bags I accumulate from grocery shopping in the trash bins around my house OR I purchase plastic bags purely for the purpose of throwing them away.
    I can't avoid bagging my household trash because my HOA requires that the trash be secured in a bag inside a closed trash bin.
    I wouldn't mind the extra cleanup required to dispose of household trash directly into a larger trashbin, however that is not permitted...

  • Adam

    I don't think there's much of an issue here. I'm not so sure the honor system *wouldn't* work. When you're using a self-checkout, the stores are trusting that you don't have any additional items "under your cart" and that you're scanning every item... they can't watch you 100% of the time. Additionally, many retailers have started programs to provide incentives for people to carry reusable bags. CVS, for example, attaches a tag to your reusable bag that earns discounts.

    And, although it's not perfect, couldn't Giant and Safeway just pay 5 cents for each customer that uses self checkout? The stores themselves are ostensibly saving money already by having customers check themselves out instead of paying for cashiers.

  • Jen

    In the UK we've been using this system for a while now.
    The screen asks the user to input the number of plastic supermarket carriers used, and relys on honesty.
    In addition most supermarkets here have loyalty card accounts, where users can collect 'green' points by also inputting the number of their own bags they brought along and used. These points later translate into coupons and savings offers.
    I believe that this second aspect was abused a great deal initially, as they allowed users to input numbers up to 500!!
    By reducing the maximum number of own bags to five, they've limited their liability and that seems to work for everyone.

  • Deanwoodenizen

    Jen, that is a great system. The challenge in DC is that they don't research, identify, and test best practices (despite proclamations to the contrary see vacant property issue).

  • aoi

    This will be repealed by year-end.

  • Mansionmogul

    I'm curious how they'll deal with self checkout for people who ARE using reusable bags, since when you put your bag in the bagging area, a Safeway employee has to personally come over and "Override" the weight of the bag. Annoying, so we'll see if they fix that.

  • Rachel

    Giant's self-checkout, or at least the Giant on Rhode Island Ave, has a "reusable bag" button that you can press. I've never abused the system but I imagine if you hit the button 20 times on two bananas and a gallon of milk that somebody might come over to check on you.

  • Rachel

    What I meant to add is that it doesn't seem a far step from that to "please push this button to ADD five cents to your purchase" and I bet most people will do it for fear of someone watching. They do usually have one checkout person standing around pretending to look busy so that when the machine fubars up, which it always does, they can come over and fix it.

  • Jim

    I think this is a great idea. It should be done nationwide, but apparently Republicans who have been bought off by the plastics industry will never vote for it. Hopefully DC, along with a few California cities, will get the ball rolling.

  • Scott J

    Did anyone else actually read the law and note that reusable bags have to be "at least 2.25 milimeters thick" plastic material or cloth! I checked a few of mine and at best they are 0.5 mm thick!

    Did the city counsel just outlaw most resuable bags as well.

    I kid you not check it out!