City Desk

Bark If You Hate the Bag Tax

Sorry about the bags, pal

My smart and savvy colleague Shani Hilton has just linked to some new research demonstrating that the District's nearly two-year-old bag tax has been a success. Allow me to dissent. Well, sorta.

Oh, sure, Shani's argument seems to have all kinds of "statistics" on its side, demonstrating that the tax has meant fewer plastic bags, and less resulting environmental damage when those bags wind up in vacant lots of endangered rivers. And, yeah, its apparent that many Washingtonian consumers—including me—have developed the habit of taking recyclable bags to the Safeway, thereby avoiding the need to pay the District a nickel for those plastic bags that were once used to haul groceries home.

Less environmental damage, little quality-of-life impact. What's not to like?

But this argument leaves out one demographic: Those of us who walk our dogs. Once upon a time, there was a drawer in my house featuring a seemingly endless supply of plastic bags—souvenirs from every time I bought a dozen eggs or a pack of gum or just about anything else. Nowadays? The drawer's contents are limited to the long, skinny, poop-unfriendly plastic bags that carry the daily newspaper to my door.

Oh, sure, I could go out and buy bags. But somehow I keep forgetting: It's easier to acquire the habit of carrying the reusable bag to the store than it is to get comfortable with buying a sheath of plastic bags to bring home inside it.

I'm sure some smartypants economist could come up with an economic model that reassesses the bag tax based on foregone opportunities to re-use free supermarket bags. Which, to be sure, will probably confirm the results Shani pointed to. In the meantime, I'll stick with my dwindling supply of Post delivery bags—and will wash my hands after coming home from a walk.

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  • Mr T in DC

    Same for cat owners! We relied on using old Giant and CVS bags for scooping Oliver's litterbox deposits into.

  • PBS

    I hate the bag tax on philosophical as well as pragmatic grounds - we use plastic bags to dispose of waste from the cats' litter box.

  • Skipper

    Have your dog crap on Councilmartyr Wells' front lawn. He can then use it to fuel the hot air and bullshit that wins him constant hardons at Greater Greater Wells.

  • PBS

    @Mr T - beat me to it! We have an Oliver, too.

  • jimbo

    You go Skipper! Councilmartyr puts the douche in douchebag. Tax that Tommy!

  • keptsimple

    I prefer to use store-bought bags irrespective of the bag tax. Grocery bags are too bulky to carry comfortably in your pocket, and they tend to have small holes along the seam that runs along the bottom of the bag. The specially-made poop bags, however, are maddeningly hard to find in DC. Has anyone else noticed this? It should be a no-brainer for a store to carry an ample supply of these bags, given the grocery bag tax and the fact that DC is overrun with dog owners, but I usually have to check 3 or 4 stores before I can find them.

  • Kary S

    Sorry, I would have to respectfully disagree. I am a dog owner as well and worked on getting the fee instated. I think the trade off is more than worth it. Also if you going to buy dog bags, go for the non-plastic/flushable ones. Cheers :)

  • Broads of the Beltway

    I don't have a dog, but I have a different objection.

    I am indeed in the habit of bringing recyclable bags or a backpack to the grocery store. The problem is that I have to decide whether or not I want to buy a bag as I pay, before I have even packed anything. Often, I realize that I actually do need a bag when it is too late and the next customer is already paying. I have no objection to paying a nickel, but it is a bit irritating that it poses a complication after I am already prepared to leave the store.

  • Poopy

    I'm confused by your post that seems to pooh-pooh newspaper bags. The newspaper bags (the ones that Post comes in at least) are perfect for scooping the poop. Maybe it's a male/female thing and it's easier for me to use them since my hand is smaller. Just trying to understand why you don't think the newspaper bags work.

  • Pre-war bagology

    For those of us without disposals in pre-war buildings with litlle holes in the wall for the refuse, bags have become a part-time job. As with the pet lovers, we now have to buy bags to put garbage down the shoot...weren't we recycling all along?

  • bagit

    We have to BUY trash bags for our small kitchen and bathroom trash cans now. We don't even have pets, or that much trash but we still need to use plastic bags. So we shop in MD. Nice job, DC Council!

  • Park Viewer

    To be fair, you can now choose to buy a dog bag (that will also carry your groceries!) for $.05 each, or try to find them for less by buying a large quantity at once. I'm not a dog owner, but aren't sandwich bags a good size? You can buy a box of 200 for less than $3, which is a better deal than using grocery bags.

    If you still want the plastic grocery bags in your life, then pay the 5 cents. You will probably not go broke because of it, and if you reuse or recycle them as often as you say you do, then you're probably not going to strangle mother earth with your choice. I agree, they're very useful - as can liners, dog waste bags, "oh crap, it's raining and this book doesn't fit in my bag" bags, etc. I always keep some around for that reason. I just moved to New York, where they will triple-bag your single item before you can say "no, thank you, I don't need a bag" and I have accumulated more plastic bags in two months than I will probably use to fill my (tiny apartment) trash cans. I miss the bag tax.

  • K

    Poop unfriendly newspaper bags? These used to be my favorite kinds of bags. Maybe you're not using them properly? Stick your hand all the way in them and use them like a glove. Pick the yuck up with your shielded hand, then use your other hand to pull the bag down your arm and inside-out. Then tie it off. Works like a charm!

  • Guest

    I agree with K, I always preferred newspaper bags, cover the arm nicely!!

  • Wrack

    Find something more important to complain about. It's a measly 5-cent tax and you can buy as many cheap-ass plastic dog-shit bags as you want for, what, $2? Get the fuck over it already. DC has raised all kinds of taxes over the last few years, and all of them cost a hell of a lot more than the bag tax, but people are so irrational that they only complain about this one because they're used to having "free" bags (even though the store always works the cost of the bags into the cost of their products).