Dallas’ New Bag Tax: What’s the Point?

Yesterday the Dallas City Council passed an ordinance that would require retailers to charge 5 cents per paper or plastic bag used by consumers.  While this is not an all-out ban on plastic bags, it does punish consumers who make the choice to use a plastic or paper bag instead of bringing their own reusable bags.  While 5 cents may not seem like much, the burden of these types of charges fall on the poorest.  Furthermore, if the goal is to reduce paper bag usage, one need look no further than the Washington, D.C. experience.  Four years ago, the District implemented a 5 cents per disposable bag tax with the goal of reducing plastic bag usage and cleaning up the river.  While officials claim that people are using 60 percent fewer bags, revenue figures tell a different story.   At this point, D.C. probably does not even care that people’s bag use behavior hasn’t changed since they are raking in about $2 million a year from the bag tax.  So why are the environmentalists strangely silent?  What is really the point of a bag tax other than to collect revenue?

I’m sure the city of Dallas will experience the same results.  Litter reduction goals will give way to the additional revenue generated from the bag tax (on the backs of the poor, of course). Mind you, the environmental goal was dubious to begin with since plastic bag litter is a fraction (less than one percent) of all litter, but those supports on the Dallas City Council don’t really care.  It’s all about money.

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  1. K. Zou says:

    This policy reminds me of a similar one in Shanghai. There is no free plastic bag in supermarkets there, 20 cents for each. Actually we need to pay attention to the usage of the money collected from the “plastic bag policy”. In other words, we need to know whether we use the money for an environmental purpose. On the other hand, whether the usage of plastic bags does reduce or not remains questionable.

    • Gregory T says:

      You pose an interesting point. It is not how much the tax is, is what the city does with the revenues from it. If those revenues are utilized to improve the environment and to have a cleaner city, it is a good tax. But if they are going to use this tax to offset tax credits to polluters, then the tax is useless.

      • K. Zou says:

        Exactly. It is impossible and cynic to say all governments are superfluous. What we should consider is how to manage the government efficiently.

  2. Simon C says:

    This tax creates more problems than what they solve. 5 cents per bag will not cover for the costs of implementing a system to track the number of bags each consumer uses. It is a burden placed on the convenience stores; I believe that it is costlier to enact this law than the revenues the city can receive from it. The dead weight loss of this tax will be on the consumers, not only because they will have to pay the tax, but because the costs of implementing the system will be passed to the consumers as well.

  3. Frank D says:

    At the end of the day, money is the main goal of every tax that is imposed on the citizens. Although economic theory tells us that by taxing the use of a good we will have fewer from it, I don’t think that it works for a product as plastic or paper bags. Bags are just things we expect to have when we buy groceries. People won’t change the amount they buy; they will simply pay the tax without realizing it.

  4. Thomas V says:

    Everything is about the money, especially in politics. With this new tax the city has demonstrated that they are environmentally friendly, or at least some will see it that way, and found a way to fill the coffers of the city with a tax that only few will even notice. This tax is a political move with the intentions of increasing revenues.

  5. Harry G says:

    I question the timing. Why impose this new tax now? What are the intentions of the city to have this new tax out of the blue? I really don’t think this is coincidental, there is something they are trying to achieve that they are not telling us.

  6. Veronica R says:

    I don’t think that we can disincentive the use of bags with a tax. I think it will be more effective (if we are actually trying to decrease the amount of paper and plastic bags, not just increase revenues) to incentivize the use of reusable bags. People will buy more reusable bags if they were cheaper. It is easier to incentivize the use of something, than to disincentives the use of a complementary good.

  7. Pam says:

    When you look at the facts and compare plastic bags with reusable bags, you will find that this has nothing to do with the environment. It’s about control over people’s lives. The city has no business taxing one choice over another. Control is often couched in phrases such as “good for the environment” or “it’s for the children,” or “it’s for your health.” Amazingly, many of these mandates (such as banning incandescent bulbs, mandating ethanol, etc.) end up doing more harm to the environment than the original products did. Most reusable bags come from China and must be shipped over here on fuel-guzzling ships. Fluorescent bulbs contain mercury which can poison the water when not properly disposed of, and ethanol increases the amount of fertilizer and pesticides in the water supply, creates an incentive for deforestation and reduces fuel efficiency in cars (causing them to guzzle more gas). At what point do we stop damaging the environment and people’s lives in an effort to “save the environment?”

  8. Andre says:

    Not only are the environmental effects miniscule, but what about the increase in illnesses such as e.coli due to the increased use of reusable bags? After San Francisco’s bag ban, ER visits increased as well as deaths from food borne illnesses.

    Reusable bags are coming to mess with Texas.

  9. Studebaker says:

    I’m only one anecdote, so my example is not scientific proof. However, one firm where I shop that already has a “bag tax” is the German supermarket, Aldi. Even though the cost of bags is low (5 cents), I tend to buy less when I’m there. Maybe it’s just me, but Aldi charges a quarter to use its shopping carts. It doesn’t accept credit cards, and it charges a nickel for a paper bag. All these policies have the effect of making me buy less there than I otherwise purchase. Without the cart, I cannot load as much merchandise. Knowing I have to buy bags, I don’t want to carry as much home. Knowing I will deplete my supply of cash, I also don’t want to buy. Anything that is an impediment to purchasing will result in lower sales. We tend to reuse our shopping bags after we get home. I suspect everyone does. For years I use the plastic bags for kitchen and bathroom trash. I’d then throw them either in the garbage can or stuff them (full of trash) in the garbage bag.

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