Nobody likes paying taxes. We pay income taxes, sales tax, property tax, capital gains tax, and even death tax! While no one enjoys giving money to the government, most of us will agree that each tax strategically contributes to the the social benefits of living in Washington DC. If Council Member Tommy Wells has his way, we will pay a 5 cent tax on each plastic and paper bag we consume via the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act of 2009. Here's a snapshot of the legislation courtesy of Trash-free Anacostia.
Problem: 20,000 tons of trash enters the Anacostia River annually and 50% of that are plastic bags
Proposal: Customers will pay a 5 cent fee on all plastic and paper carryout bags from retail food establishments (grocery store, convenience stores, drug stores, and restaurants). Non-recyclable bags are banned. The fees paid by customers and fines levied on non-compliant businesses will be deposited into the Anacostia River Clean-up and Protection Fund.
Logic: If a customer has to pay for each bag received, he/she will be less likely to request a bag. If the customer doesn't receive the bag, the bag does not end up in the Anacostia River.
It is likely this legislation will, indeed, significantly reduce the amount of trash deposited in the Anacostia River. And a clean river is not only a natural beauty, but it can also stimulate recreation and economic opportunities along the waterfront.
With that being said, can you guess what's wrong with this legislation? That fact that it exists. It's shameful that we need the government to step in and regulate citizens' behavior in order to keep our community clean. Residents in communities along the Potomac River use as many plastic bags as we do in River East; however the Potomac River isn't infested with trash. This phenomenon leads one to think that our problem is not the plastic bags. Plastic bags do not grow legs and jump into the river. People in our community are careless with plastic bags, cans, and bottles and these items ultimately end up everywhere except where they belong: in the trashcan! Therefore, the problem lies in our attitudes, values, and beliefs about where we live.
Yes, the DC Council can levy a tax that will cleanse the river of plastic bags. But no amount of government intervention can cleanse our minds of an apathetic attitude towards our environment. Thank you, Council Member Wells for sprearheading this initiative. Hopefully there will come a time in River East when we are empowered to a level where we don't need government to force us to save our environment. One day, we will do it on our own. Conservation will have nothing to do with saving a nickel at the drug store. We will protect our river just because.