Taxing for Green Behavior?

The District of Columbia’s tax on plastic shopping bags has generated $150,000 in revenue while cutting the number of bags handed out by city establishments by 85%. Do you like using taxes to nudge people toward green behavior? How else should government and society be encouraging a deeper shade of green — if at all? Leave a comment below.

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  1. I have mixed feelings about the bag tax. The benefits to the environment and to city coffers are undeniable, as you note in the post. However, I do feel like it could disproportionately affect the poor.

    During a recent visit to Ireland, where there is a country-wide tax on plastic bags, I saw a nice workaround to this problem. Most of the shops I visited had cardboard boxes — those left over from grocery shipments, etc. — available at no charge to customers who don’t have or forget their reusable bags.

    Generally, I support this and other initiatives that get us away from thinking we can use disposable products “for free.”

  2. I think this is a great idea, and ties in well to other discussions here about how to value (and what to call) what nature provides for us. Someone ALWAYS pays the price for disposable goods; usually it is lower income people who live near landfills. I’m glad to see the cost passed on to users. If you think you must have a plastic bag, then you should pay for it. Me, I bring my cloth bags everywhere I go and will happily pocket the money.

  3. As Dave mentions, the benefits are undeniable, but the tax hits the poor, who shop at stores that can’t afford to stock reusable bags. If all things were possible (including a reusable bag program for every single store), I wonder if there would be a “Nudge” option available here — like making reusable bags the first option you offer people, so it’s the default. What do the authors of “Nudge” call that — libertarian paternalism? Yeah.

  4. The elimination of plastic bags in Ireland has been a tremendous success. Now it’s only the tourists who get stuck buying a grocery bag. When introduced major supermarkets got behind this initiative and offered free reusable bags which were snapped up. This is a great marketing opportunity for consumer goods companies, groceries and governments alike. People also stockpiled plastic bags to reuse so it really wasn’t a hardship.

  5. Government already taxes us to nudge our behavior, so this is no different. In many cities, we pay water rates that are designed to discourage waste. We have trading markets for SO2 and NOx which generally increase the price of power. And there are all kinds of tax breaks for eco choices (hydrid cars etc). I don’t see this as any different, so, yes.

  6. I agree this is a great idea. I received my bags for free years ago and can still find stores offering small refunds each time I use the bags. Every tiny bit helps.

  7. Regarding the mention of folks who may not be able to afford the tax- many DC grocery stores offered free reusable bags during January, the first month of the tax. It was a great way to get bags to people who might not be able to afford them otherwise. I think if there is some accommodation like that, taxes like this one could have a great impact on the environment and encourage people to take small, but important steps to be a little greener.

  8. I wonder how readers feel about the introduction of a carbon tax? Ireland imposed a tax of €15 per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions, which translates into an increase of about 4.5 cent on the price of diesel and petrol per liter. Sweden, Denmark and Finland also have a implemented a carbon tax.

  9. ban plastic and stop manufacturing it in the U.S. I’m sure they could easily come up with another way to transport things. If we eat healthy, then we don’t need so much packaging. Europe doesn’t give out plastic bags at the check-out. If the store doesn’t provide plastic, then you would remember to bring your basket, or re-usable bag, etc.

  10. I think it’s great that the government was able to nudge the nation to be a little more responsible, even if they (the people) didn’t quite realize it. They need to be nudged to be more responsible while driving (texting while driving comes to mind), and this, I think, is not much different. In southwest Iowa the idea of reusing bags has always been a bonus, and we love the discounts we get for remembering to use our “green” bags. The only difficult part: remembering to bring them from home!

  11. Yes, I like using taxes to nudge people toward green behavior. Now, more and more people call of green behavior, but only small part of them participate in this action. So I support this method that use taxes to nudge people toward green behavior.

  12. I know they’re doing this in Toronto, Canada and it apparently is a very popular program.

  13. I think it is a great idea! Reusable bags are cheap at most places and everyone should live green. I wish everyone loved earth as much as I do!

  14. Yes, unfortunately in this country I don’t think you’ll be able to get enough people to begin “thinking and choosing green” until you start to hit their pockets.

  15. Nope. I Dislike micromanagement by government. we need to do this on our own.

  16. hablais muy bien todos sobre la natraleza os llenais la boca con
    bonitas palabras,pero haceis algo?
    que pasa con argentina?no les inte
    resa?quizas no,no interesa q destr
    uyan la cordillera de los andes ya
    no queda nada,las minas veladero
    y pascua lama,estan en un parque
    natural protegido,sanjua estarodea
    do de minas,el gobernador jose luis gioja,junto con sus dos herma
    nos,ylos kirchner y la barrick
    gould(bush,cashogui,ect.)estan destrozando arg.por su oro,uranio,
    plata y demas metales,asus habitan
    tes,los estan sumiendo en la pobre
    za y las enfermedades deribada de
    la contaminacion de las aguas y el
    aire (mnas a cielo abierto)ademas tenemos a los árabes,chinos cana-
    dienses,pululando por todo el
    territ.arg.intentando abrir huecos
    las personas q tratan de impedir ésto estan amenazadas d muerte por
    que green peace esta tan callada
    o le han cerrado la boca con dolares o estan amenazados.ya no creemos en nadie(todos estan compr
    ados)ademas las personas que estan
    favor de ellos estan muy bien
    pagados y los que no nos vendemos
    sufrimos las consecuencias.un saludo

  17. I am environmental coordinator for Bartow County Govt in NW GA. I am part of Bike/Walk NWGA Board promoting bike activities. We have just put on google earth all our designated state bike path routes, and believe we are the first in the nation to do so. Check out the 15-county area of extreme northwest Georgia.

  18. I re-use plastic bags for a variety of purposes. I use them to pick-up feces left on the lawn by our neighbors dogs. I use them to line waste baskets. Yesterday, I picked up trash on a beach and put it in a plastic bag. I’m not going to use a cloth bag that will have to waste water and detergent for these purposes. I like the plastic bags especially since they are more biodegradable now. Recently on a highway clean-up volunteer crew, we picked-up or at least tried to pick-up plastic bags and cups. When we grabbed them, they shattered into lots of tiny pieces making the job more difficult. It shows that the new bio-degradable plastics are degrading rapidly. I don’t like the government micro managing human behavior through taxes. This has, at times, led to more environmental pollution. Don’t rely on the government to do your thinking or solve your problems. It is in diversity of thought that problems are solved.

  19. I am currently getting up a totally ‘eco-green’ website. It will have all sun-protective apparel, shoes, baby clothes, etc. etc., made of bamboo, hemp, corn, soy, and 100% organic cotton,
    the UVP is way higher than regular cotton, poly, silk, 50%-50% ANYTHING.

    1. Send us an email, Chris — we’ll consider a link.

  20. I think it’s a great idea! In Europe, you have to pay for ketchup packs, which means people on buy if they really want it! It’s time we do that here, too. It will help reduce so much waste!

  21. save the planet do all kinds of little thangs and at the end it will be a big proect every day we can do little thangs to help the planet

  22. I love the idea – people need to be personally affected because one thing environmentalists often forget is that people get so absorbed into consumer/tv culture that they forget to care about the world…until it hurts them in some way. Another economic incentive that comes to mind is Seattle, which has a tremendous recycling program; it works by charging a LOT for trash pickup, but you can put out all the recycling you come up with for free. I’ve never seen such participation in recycling!

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