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D.C.’s bag law works, recently-released surveys show

disposable plastic bags litter waterways
Doug Canter

On the fourth anniversary of D.C.’s bag law, the D.C. Department of Environment today released an October 2013 report on the law’s impact.

The Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act, commonly known as D.C.’s bag law, became effective on January 1, 2010.

The bag law requires all D.C. businesses that sell food or alcohol to charge five cents for every carryout or plastic disposable bag they provide.

Businesses get to keep one to two cents out of each five-cent-per-bag fee collected. A business pockets two cents instead of one if it gives a rebate to those customers who use their own bag.

The findings released today cast a favorable light on the bag law, although they reflect opinion polling only.

Nonetheless, the report suggests that D.C. businesses and residents view the law favorably.

Half of all businesses save money as a result of the bag law. Three quarters of D.C. residents bring their own bags when shopping, according to the reported survey results.

“Grocery stores are the place where people are receding their use of bags the most,” said Steve Raabe, President of OpinionWorks, the research firm that performed the polling surveys and wrote the findings.

OpinionWorks developed and conducted the surveys in partnership with the Alice Ferguson Foundation and the Anacostia Watershed Society.

The D.C. Department of Environment provided a grant for the project, funded by fees collected under the bag law.

The polling used the same statistical methods that the news media use, Raabe said.

D.C. bag fees brought in slightly more than two million dollars during 2013.

The money from bag fees goes into a special-purpose fund that the D.C. Department of Environment uses mainly for projects that protect and restore the rivers and streams in the Anacostia Watershed.

The list of projects funded by the bag law fees includes the D.C. Department of Environment’s RiverSmart Homes program, which offers technical and financial help to homeowners for stormwater reduction, and its Green Roof Subsidy Program, which offers financial assistance in the form of rebates for green roof installation.

In the end, the law’s main goal is to reduce the number of plastic bags that litter the Anacostia River and other local waterways by discouraging people from using disposable bags.

On the D.C. bag law’s fourth anniversary, “[w]e’re seeing a dramatic improvement that plastic bag litter has deceased,” Raabe said.

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