(image courtesy of Inertia)
Last winter the Alice Ferguson Foundation commissioned a study of Washington, DC, residents and businesses to learn more about how the five-cent bag fee was being received after its implementation, January 1st, 2010. The study was funded by the District Department of the Environment. While littering is known to be a widespread problem (a previous AFF study found as many as 4 in 10 DC residents admit to actively littering), the bag fee has had a tremendous and immediate change in behavior, with 75 percent of residents reporting a reduction in their bag usage.
Perhaps even more important when making the case for a new bag ordinance is the fact that the bag fee is also very popular with businesses. The majority of surveyed businesses said their consumption of bags is at least 50 percent lower than in 2009, as a result of the fee. Only 12 percent reported a negative impact on their business–with the primary complaint surrounding customer education. None reported lower sales.
Instead, 78 percent of surveyed businesses have had neutral or positive experiences with the bag fee. Specifically they have observed a reduction in litter on their properties, and not-insignificant cost savings by not having to buy as many bags. Businesses ranging from sole proprietorships in low-income areas all the way up to large national chains give positive feedback. Marcia Levi, the owner of Chocolate Moose, a gift shop in downtown DC, said, “This little 5-cent fee has really raised the level of public awareness in not using bags unnecessarily. I am so thrilled at the way this has played out for both my business and the environment.” Books A Million reported saving $1,750 in 2010, just from purchasing fewer bags. Retailers, especially grocery stores, operate on such thin profit margins that simply reducing that one expense makes a big difference. Statistics are very compelling for campaigners facing opposition from business. Case studies, stats, and knowledge of implemented policies and their effect on the bottom line are the tools for a successful campaign and how to make friends out of enemies. Studying the D.C. model is of utmost importance.
Julie Lawson, D.C. Surfrider