Friday, June 5, 2009

Bag Tax... Good Idea or Bad Idea?

On June 2, 2009 the D.C. Council voted to add a 5 cent tax to plastic bags. This whole thing has me conflicted. Part of my problem is, I wear too many hats.

The Environmentalist (aka the idealist) in me thinks this is a great idea. It's a small step towards a better environmental future. I personally do not use plastic bags. I have about seven or eight reusable bags that use for everything. I keep one in my desk at work. Two in the car, just in case I make a quick stop that wasn't planned. The rest I keep at home. Even when I go to stores like CVS I always say I don't need a bag. Plastic bags just aren't environmentally-friendly.

The Civil Engineer (aka the realist) in me thinks this is a waste of time, effort, and money. To really and truly clean the Anacostia would probably be on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars in my best estimate. Most of that would be to fund infrastructure costs (such as the separation of the storm and sewer lines), environmental remediation (God only knows what deadly chemicals are in the silts at the bottom of the river), and environmental restoration. The estimated $9.5 million expected to be raised, isn't even enough money to plant a tree (I'm being facetious).

The Urban Planner (aka the activist) in me thinks this is a burden to the poor. Let's think about this. Rich people probably won't even notice and/or they have reusable bags. When I shop at the grocery stores in the wealthier parts our town, I would say for ever person that uses plastic bags there are four that bring reusable bags. However, when I shop at the Safeway or Giant on Alabama Ave SE, the clerk always gives me a look of confusion when I hand over my reusable bags.

While I think in general the bag tax is a noble effort, the one thing that I struggle with is the idea that the money will go to community outreach and awareness. Help me understand this... we are going to tax the poor... so we can get funding... to provide the poor with reusable bags... and educate them on the importance of the Anacostia. Riiiiiiiiiight. This is like some warped Robin Hood of some sorts.

Needless to say, this is pretty much a done deal. The Council votes on it again at the end of this month. I sincerely hope that there will be an outreach campaign in Ward 7 and 8 before this tax goes into effect.

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