Sweet: Bag tax changed behavior in D.C.; now it’s Chicago’s turn

SHARE Sweet: Bag tax changed behavior in D.C.; now it’s Chicago’s turn

The city of Chicago says its bag tax may not be bringing in as much revenue as it hoped, but the 7-cent-per-bag fee has cut back on the use of disposables. | File photo

My fellow Chicagoans,

As your correspondent in Washington, I am writing to share my experiences living under the District of Columbia’s nickel-a-bag fee — and how your life will change on Wednesday, when Chicago imposes a 7-cent tax.

The D.C. charge on paper and plastic bags covers every grocery and drug outlet. It took effect on Jan. 1, 2010. The official reason is that plastic bags were one of the biggest sources of trash in the Anacostia River.

“The bag bill focuses on changing consumer behavior,” the D.C. government states on its web site. “By charging a nominal fee for disposable bags, just 5 cents a bag rather than banning bags altogether, the (bag law) encourages district residents to use less single use disposable bags and to bring more reusable bags to stores.”

I changed. Right away. Day One.

GET READY: 7 things to know about Chicago’s bag tax

I wasn’t the only one. It seemed almost everyone gags at the idea of paying for plastic bags that used to be free. Everybody brings their own bags into grocery stores now. Chicagoans on Wednesday will join the ranks of schleppers.

Obviously, I knew before 2010 that environmentally, its better to limit the use of plastic bags. I didn’t need a bag fee to tell me that.

Now I keep an assortment of tote bags in my car. I stash a plastic bag in my knapsack in case I stop at a store while on foot.

If I forget or don’t have a bag on me and I buy just a few small items, I just pay and depart with the stuff. I make a display of brandishing my receipt while hauling out the door a package of chicken quarters and a bottle of ketchup.

I am not alone. A lot of us in D.C have, over the years, become perfectly content to walk home swinging a quart of milk without a bag rather than pay an extra nickel.

The bag fee did swiftly trigger the wider use of reusable bags. That’s my anecdotal conclusion, based on years of watching folks at the checkout lines here.

By the way – about bags for fruits and vegetables. There is no charge for them in D.C. So I still use them with abandon, though sometimes I feel a little guilty.

The new Chicago rules are similar; paper and plastic bags used for produce and other loose items, like bakery goods, also will be exempt from the charge.

On the whole, the D.C. bag fee left me successfully socially engineered.

And that’s what’s ahead for you Chicago shoppers, starting Wednesday.

All the best,

Lynn Sweet

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