Dec 29 - Are Voluntary Ordinances as Effective as Mandatory Charges or Bag Bans?


If you’ve ever wondered whether voluntary efforts to reduce single-use bag distribution work as well as a mandatory bag charge or ban, read on for a quick comparison.

DC: A charge on paper and plastic bags

In 2010, Washington DC passed a mandatory charge of 5 cents per each single-use plastic or paper bag distributed in the city. According to the Washington Post, in the first month alone 3.3 million bags were distributed, an amazing 85% decrease from the 22.5 million bags estimated per month in 2009. The decrease in single-use bag use (and likely switch to environmentally friendly reusable bags) surpassed the expectations of ordinance proponents, who estimated roughly 4.2 million bags would be used per month with the new ordinance.

MA: A voluntary effort to reduce bag usage

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, a voluntary initiative for grocers to reduce bag waste through efficient bagging techniques has been successful at a less significant level. After three years of a collaborative effort between the Massachusetts Food Association and the state Department of Environmental Protection, single-use paper and plastic bag distribution have decreased by 33%. Read more here.

While 33% reduction is a noteworthy achievement, especially since this reduction was met two years before the goal completion date in Massachusetts, it pales in comparison to the immediate success in DC.

On a related note in DC

The Americans for Tax Reform funded a study on the DC bag ordinance that estimated a loss of 101 jobs due to decreased disposable income after purchasing single-use bags. In their zeal to oppose the DC bag ordinance, the anti-tax organization may have mistakenly assumed that the charge was an unavoidable tax, when in fact it is a charge that consumers can avoid by simply refusing the store’s bags and bringing their own reusable bags.

Moreover, a recent survey of 600 randomly chosen D.C. residents by the Alice Ferguson Foundation found that 75 percent of the residents were using fewer bags since the ordinance was enacted. Another survey of 51 business owners found that 58 percent had not seen changes to their business, with 20 percent noting positive impacts of the ordinance, including reduced store litter and lower bag distribution costs.

Take action and support single-use bag ordinances. You can stay up to date by signing up for email alerts and news. For more information, visit our Campaign to End Single-Use Plastic Bags.

Please also consider making a tax deductible donation to support our work on plastic bag pollution.