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.