Are Plastic Bag Fees Effective?

If history tells us anything: Yes.

In every city where a fee has been mandated, success has been found.  A simple way to verify that ban-plus-fee and straight fee legislation is effective is to simply look at what Big Plastic fights against.  To date, lobbying groups including the APBA (American “Progressive” Bag Alliance) has spent upwards of $6 million fighting the California statewide ban on plastic bags signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2014.  They successfully forced this law to a referendum on the November 7th ballot for this year.

Example 1) Ireland
  • Beginning in 2002, a fee equivalent to approximately 15 U.S. cents was applied to every single plastic bag provided at checkout.
  • The result?  A 94% reduction in plastic bag consumption and a noticeable reduction in litter.  (3)  
  • Plus, the fee generated €12 million in revenue in the first year alone.  (2)
Example 2) Washington, D.C.
  • In 2009, all food and alcohol retailers became responsible for charging 5 cents for every carryout bag provided at the register.  
  • In addition to letting the retailer keep 1 to 2 cents of the 5, the remainder was collected and put into a community fund to preserve the Anacostia River and provide ongoing education about plastic bag use.  
  • The result?  A 50 to 70% reduction of plastic bag use and noticeable reduction of plastic bag litter in the Anacostia River.  (2)
Example 3) United Kingdom
  • Similar to Ireland and D.C., the UK began charging 5 pence (about 8 US cents) for each plastic bag.  (3)
  • Customers chose cost over convenience, and used 80% fewer plastic bags than before the fee.  (3)
  • $38 million has been collected and distributed to charities and community groups.  (3)
Example 4) Los Angeles County
  • Yet another example of plastic bag fees effectuating change in consumer behavior is happening in L.A.  
  • Starting in 2010, large stores began charging 10 cents per single-use bag distributed.  
  • The result?  Plastic bag usage dropped by 95% and paper bag usage by 30%.  (2)
Example 5) San Jose, California  
  • After mandating a 10-cent per bag charge in 2012, the city has seen 89% less plastic bag litter in the storm drain system, 60% less in the waterways, and 59% less in city streets and neighborhoods.  (2)
  • Amazingly, “the average number of single-use plastic bags used per customer decreased from 3 bags to 0.3 bags per visit”.  (2)

How much should we charge per bag?