April 1, 2009

Let's Pass the Bag Bill

The City held hearings yesterday for a proposed fee on plastic bags, as part of a concerted effort to clean up the Anacostia river.

Apparently, plastic bags comprise almost half of the trash in the Anacostia tributaries. The proposed fee is a nickel per bag (paper and plastic both), and a government-commissioned report estimates that this would reduce waste in the river by up to 68%. Furthermore, the city would save some of the many millions of dollars that it currently spends on trash cleanup, while the fee itself generates a new fund for the purpose of additional river revitalization efforts. (Not to mention, all this will enable DC to avoid the hefty fines about to be smacked down upon polluting cities by a newly-funtional EPA.)

It's a good policy, and it has broad support in City Council and the community.

And yet Councilmember Tommy Wells, one of the driving forces behind the bill, paid a special visit to Bread for the City on Monday, to make a few important reassurances to us about the proposed legislation. Councilmember Wells was well aware that while a five cent bag fee won't register on many District residents, that kind of change certainly adds up for those who have to make each dollar stretch.

Indeed, Bread for the City staff had previously discussed the fact that this seemingly win-win policy would actually be regressive for our clientele. A few weeks ago, emails were circulating that even considered public opposition to the bill. The Councilmember informed us that, in addition to emails, residents of low income communities had been receiving robocalls that tried to gin up opposition to the bill. All, apparently, part of a coordinated obstructionist effort by "Big Bag"! [UPDATE: Marc Fisher at the Post posted on this matter right around the time we did.]

In truth, the legislation is carefully designed to lessen the fee's impact on the poor even while generating more environmental returns. Councilmember Wells mentioned the supply of reusable bags that will be made available through stores, housing projects, public agencies and organizations like Bread for the City. We also shared some ideas with him about how to outreach to seniors and, most important of all, schools.

The bill's opponents imply that low income communities aren't themselves invested in their environment -- and, perhaps more cynically, that conservationist methods won't work just as well as heedless waste. We look forward to demonstrating otherwise.

1 comment:

David said...

Good call, BFtC! And thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!