This month, the District instituted a 5 cent tax for each paper or plastic bag used. The Washington Post looked into the impact of the tax.
The tax revenue will be used to clean up litter around the Anacostia river, which experts say is polluted largely by plastic bags. Like the cigarette tax which funds children’s health insurance programs, decreased usage and paying the tax are both beneficial to the larger goal. If fewer individuals use bags, the river will not become as polluted, and if people buy the 5 cent bags, the river will be cleaned.
According to the Post, the tax is already having a major impact. “Managers at stores that sell food or beverages say the switchover has cut the use of plastic bags by half or more.”
However, psychological experts agree that the District should not be celebrating too soon. “Outrage over tax increases usually fades over time because the increase is buried within an item’s cost,” said Dan Ariely a Duke University professor, noting this might be different since one is reminded at each purchase. As Dr. Lisa Catapano with George Washington University told WAMU 88.5 FM at the beginning of the year, this fee is too small to change behavior. “Positive incentives tend to work better. They create more lasting changes in behavior.”
City officials will get the first tally of the bag tax at the end of the month, but more accurate figures and proof the tax is achieving its goals won’t be seen for months.