How Viable Is a Plastic Bag Tax?

Plastic bags account for 50 percent of the plastic trash in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia River. In order to decrease the amount of plastic bags in the Anacostia, the D.C. Council proposed legislation that would put a five cents tax on disposable shopping bags. Eleven council members co-introduced it, and according to a Washington Post article, that almost guarantees it will become law.
Social service groups and plastic bag manufacturers have joined forces in opposing the legislation, arguing that the tax will be a hardship for poor people.
Photo Source: Dwell

“I have no qualms about cleaning up the Anacostia River,”” said former Ward 8 council member Sandy Allen. “That little five cents may sound small, but on a continued basis…it eats into the income.”
Restaurant owner Andy Shallal accused the plastic bag manufacturers of “race-baiting and class-baiting.”
The legislation’s author, Council member Tommy Wells, said, “The approach I’m taking is really to get into your head, not into your pocket.”
A provision in the legislation creates a fund from the tax revenue to clean up the Anacostia and provide reusable bags to “district residents, with priority to assisting seniors and low-income residents.” D.C. stores would be allowed to keep a penny for each bag, and the other four cents would go to the fund.
Ireland’s PlasTax has been a success
In 2002, Ireland instituted a plastic bag tax of 20 cents per bag, called the PlasTax. Last year the tax increased to 33 cents. The PlasTax was a response to 1.2 million shopping bags, 316 per person, consumed yearly in Ireland. The taxes raised from the PlasTax go into the Green Fund, which finances environmental projects.
During the first three months the amount of shopping bags used by consumers decreased 90 percent and raised $3.45 million. After one year the plastic bag use decreased by 94 percent, and raised $9.6 million. The PlasTax also got rid of one of Ireland’s largest imports as only 21 percent of plastic bags were manufactured in Ireland.
Lisa Miastny, consumption project director for Worldwatch Institute thinks the PlasTax has been effective
The website,, characterizes the PlasTax as a “simple market-based solution in the form of a consumption tax” which saves retailers money because they stock fewer bags. In Ireland, retailers spent on average $50 million a year on plastic bags before the PlasTax. According to, it has been a “major success” and “consumers have widely adopted using reusable shopping bags.”
Retailers now promote the tax. Founder of the Superquinn grocery store chain, Senator Feargal Quinn said, “I spent many months arguing against this tax with the minister; I thought customers wouldn’t accept it. But I have become a big, big enthusiast.”
Chains that ban bags still see profits
Loblaw Companies Limited opened four “bagless” grocery stores, making it the first big grocery store chain to remove all disposable bags. All the chain’s stores sell a reusable bag for 99 cents, and have sold 12 million to date.
Ikea phased out its plastic bags in its U.S. stores in 2007. The program first began in the company’s British stores in 2006. IKEA began phasing out plastic bags in its U.S. stores by charging five cents per bag. It sold reusable bags for 59 cents. In October 2008, IKEA banned all plastic bags in its U.S. stores.
According to IKEA, charging customers for plastic bags reduced its customers’ usage by 92 percent. About 64 million less bags were used. IKEA’s initial goal was to reduce plastic bag use by 50 percent.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

3 responses

  1. Outstanding post. It totally blows my mind that well-meaning people fall for the baloney the plastic bag lobby is throwing out (no pun intended). I really hope we can get a similar tax in the US asap.

  2. D.C., Boston, New York, Toronto, or “tim buck two”….The plastic bag “legislation” and or “ACT” is simply another convoluted government “green plan” marketing scheme, and again, it’s just putting another target on the consumer’s backs and bucks too. Does anyone truly believe that they (consumers) were getting these plastic bags from the stores (retailers) for free, before? Do you honestly feel loved by your retailers & plastic bag manufacturers? And, you don’t seriously believe “they” were giving away these before this latest “TAX GRAB ACT” right? No! You were paying for it before. The price of the plastic bag was built into the price of your steak and eggs…but now, you’ll simply be paying for it again, because your government is seeing (TAX) to it. I don’t know about others out there, but it seems to me like there is some back scratching going on here folks. If you don’t have a re-usable bag, then you should get some…plastic bags should be out-law-ed all together. Some people are rich and, don’t care about the 5 cents for a plastic bag, or the environment, for that matter!

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