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The Economic Impact of Washington D.C. Bag Fee

The economic impact of the bag fee in Washington D.C.  is disputed.  A study by The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University estimated, using an economic model, that if all other factors remain constant, the bag fee will eliminate 101 jobs in the area and a loss of $602,000 of investment, mostly in the retail industry. These losses will also reduce sales tax revenue and offset the revenue gained from the fee, which will ,over time, decrease.  The study reasons that the negative economic impacts will occur due to consumers shopping outside of Washington D.C. and by reallocating some income to the fee which they would have spent on other items.[1]
Proponents of the fee argue that empirical data shows that the model’s predictions are false. In a survey of business owners in Washington D.C. only 12% reported a negative impact on their business while, 78% reported a beneficial or neutral impact.[2] In addition the model is built on a standard model of sales tax increase, which does not accurately reflect the nature of the bag fee.  The bag fee is avoidable, unlike a tax[3], so consumers have a third option.  Instead of spending income on the fee or shopping elsewhere, as the model argues, consumers can also make a one-time purchase of a reusable bag and incur no further extra cost. In addition the model fails to take into account the economic benefits to business, including the reduced cost of buying and storing bags, and the value of the environmental benefits.[4]  This would indicate that the model overestimated the net negative impact of the fee and a net positive impact cannot be ruled out.

[1] The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University. The Impact of Bill 18-150 on the Economy of Washington, D.C.. : The Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University, 2011. http://www.atr.org/files/files/DCBagTaxStudy.pdf., pg. 4
[2]ontgomery County, Maryland . “Leggett Proposes Five-cent Charge on Paper, Plastic Carryout Bags Provided by Retailers to Encourage Use of Reusable Carryout Bags, Enhance the Environment; Funds Dedicated to Water Quality Protection.” http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/apps/News/press/PR_details.asp?PrID=7374.
[3]Kizler, Josh. “Update: The efficacy of Washington, D.C.’s bag fee.” Plastic Bag Laws. Accessed May 12, 2011. http://plasticbaglaws.org/update-the-efficacy-of-washington-d-c-’s-bag-fee/#_edn11.
[4]Brown, Josh. “Bag surcharge a detriment to D.C., study says.” Washington Times, February 10, 2011.

May 25, 2011 at 7:04 pm Leave a comment

Moving Beyond the Plastic Paradigm

Plaza cafe...so artsy.

by Chase Eck

My friend Stephen and I were in the library a couple nights ago. He was learning everything there is to know about the Holocaust, and I was writing a paper analyzing different historical perspectives on the Israeli war of Independence in 1948. Clearly we needed a break. We moseyed on down to Plaza café and swapped light conversation about looming demographic problems in China and electoral models across democracies over steaming cups of Seattle’s Best. Sometime during the conversation I realized just how many points I had accrued during my study break and vented my dismay to Stephen with some well-chosen words.  Stephen’s response was: “Well you just have to count the plastic right?”

Of course as anyone who is familiar with the No Impact challenge knows I couldn’t just count the plastic.  I had to count the cardboard coffee cup as well. That’s the point, it’s easy to fixate on one easily identifiable culprit such as plastic or oil but the truth is the issue is so much broader.  We need to move beyond the latest villain of the day and seek to identify why wasteful behavior is so bad and work to better our habits with regards to that issue as well as others.  Plastic bags aren’t inherently bad, it’s just that the number we consume is so wasteful. This concern applies to all single use items, not just those made of plastic.

April 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm 2 comments

Lessons from a Prospie

by Chase Eck

It was Sunday.  I had just picked up a prospie (prospective student for those not in the know) and we were headed out to lunch.  I suggested a couple places downtown and she picked Five Guys. My mouth watering in anticipation of the juicy goodness that is a Five Guys burger, I walked eagerly there.  I went up to the counter and ordered a cheeseburger and a water…and then it hit me: that burger would be wrapped in foil and then put into a paper bag and my water? It came in a plastic cup. Three wasted single-use items, three points.  I sat down glum at the sudden increase in my point total for the day. As lunch went on I ended up talking to the prospie about student groups and BaglessNU. I told her about the game and she seemed pretty interested.  Discussion about the game and my recent strategic misstep led to a broader conversation about sustainability and why exactly I was doing this.  In fact, I had just the type of conversation that we hoped to spark when the idea of the game was introduced. 

As I look back on Sunday I think about it as a successful day.  Sure, I got three points and, more importantly, used up three single-use items, but I got the chance to talk to someone and share with them the real issue.  While playing and designing this game I’ve found that it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of victory or the details of the rules and lose sight of why we’re actually doing this. The real purpose of this game is not to win but to raise awareness of the unnecessary waste that we produce through single use items and hopefully encourage more people to stop using single-use items. Even though I have failed to completely avoid single use items I can console myself with the hope that just by participating I am helping to bring about a broader awareness of the need to be sustainable because no matter how few points I get I can’t do it alone.

April 19, 2011 at 12:01 am Leave a comment

One Cup, One Northwestern

by Chase Eck

It was ten in the morning on Friday and my game theory discussion just got out 30 minutes early, and what I wanted at that moment, more than anything else, was a steaming cup of highly caffeinated coffee.  You see, I hadn’t slept last night thanks to the wonderful EA 2 design project and based on my success staying awake in game theory it was going to be a long day if I didn’t get some caffeine. So I decided to go to the Einstein Bros. in Pancoe. I go up to the cashier, pay for my coffee, sit down, and feel an immediate pang of regret.  The coffee cup was “single-use.” I had just started practicing living without using disposables and now I had one sitting in my

It all started with one cup... Image From: http://www.energyfriend.com

hand full of coffee practically begging to be thrown away after I was done. As I sat there, gazing at Lake Michigan and Northwestern’s campus, I hit upon an idea: it’s only single-use if you only use it once.  While the cup was meant to be thrown away after I drank all of the coffee I didn’t have to throw it away. There was no one forcing me to only use it once.  So I decided to see just how many time I could use this “single-use” cup.

First, I finished my coffee during my next class, it was EA 2, and then I got a little thirsty. Before math I decided to go fill up my cup at the water fountain. I got through math and went to Plex for lunch. It was stir fry day or as my friends and I like to call it: stir-Friday. I used the reusable cups in the dining hall for my meal but I really wanted to take some PowerAde for the road.  Usually I use the disposable Styrofoam cups provided but today I reused my Einstein’s cup for the third time. I went to class and then filled up my cup once again at the water fountain in my dorm and went out for the night leaving my cup behind in my room since I wouldn’t need it.

The next day I woke up very parched and immediately walked to the water fountain to put a good amount of water in my cup. I trotted over to Plex to have brunch and once again used my Einstein’s cup to take a beverage to go.  This time it was orange juice, which I sipped on my way to the library.  At the library I filled my cup up with water and I didn’t use it for the rest of the day. Finally, on Sunday I forgot to get some much needed coffee in the dining hall at dinner and to prevent myself from dozing off in the library that night I went down to Plaza Café to grab some of

Recycling: It's awesome. Image From: http://www.sunnyvale.ca.gov

Seattle’s Best coffee.  I brought along my Einstein cup and not only could I use it for coffee I even received a 10 cent discount! After I was done drinking my coffee, the cup looked a little worn and structurally unsound.  The cup was weakening because some of the liquid had been absorbed by the cardboard.  The cup’s eventual demise wasn’t surprising, after all, the cup had been designed to be used only once, not eight times and so, with a sigh of regret, I threw away my trustworthy cup.

In today’s culture of convenience and consumerism we are flooded with opportunities to be wasteful and encouraged to use items just once because it is the easy thing to do. What I ask of you is to rethink what the value of these disposable items is and whether “single-use” items are really single-use. I think you’d be surprised just how many times you can use them.

April 6, 2011 at 5:53 am 2 comments


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