Posts tagged ‘roosevelt institute’

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

Hotel Breakfast Gone Bad

by Liz Miller

I knew that weekend was going to be my first major challenge.  I didn’t know if I would be able to resist the artificially-flavored gas station temptations that awaited me on my late night Greyhound journey to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Why was I going to the UP, you might ask?  For an interview.  Yes, an interview.  I had applied for a particularly lucrative scholarship in my small Wisconsin hometown and, having been the only one there to apply, was automatically granted an interview at the organization’s district office in the UP.  My northbound trek began with the Amtrak to Milwaukee followed by a four-hour Greyhound ride, bringing me to my destination at approximately 1:45 AM.  Amidst the frantic errands of my day of departure, I didn’t have time to pack more than a few pieces of fruit stolen from the dining hall and a half-empty bag of cereal.  It would take all the willpower I could muster to keep from giving in to a travel-weary need for corn syrup and sodium, and I wasn’t sure I was up to the test.

But somehow I completed the journey without earning a single point.  In my post-Greyhound disheveled delirium I was quite proud of myself, though that pride would prove to be short-lived.  The next morning at breakfast, I was faced with my biggest No Impact dilemma since deciding whether to eat before dance practice when my only option was the plastic-heavy Norris food court (I ultimately decided to take the point and avoid inevitable collapse).  The interviews were being held in the AmericInn hotel, probably because there was no better venue in the tiny town.  I had stayed there the night before and could not wait to wake up to a nice cozy continental breakfast.  But when I finally rolled out of bed and went downstairs, I was met with the most unwelcome of surprises: Styrofoam plates.  No Impact Challenge aside, there are very few things I hate more than Styrofoam.  I normally go out of my way to avoid it, but here it was staring me in the face with no other option in sight.  I was ready to go barbaric and forego dishware altogether until I made the mistake of looking across the room.  There sat a professionally-clad group of aptly-aged people who were undoubtedly my interviewers.

As much as it killed me, I knew balancing breakfast on my hands would not make the best of impressions.  I swallowed my pride and succumbed to the vile Styrofoam before me.  I made sure to take only a plate and none of the plastic silverware, cutting down both my point total and the sustenance available to me.  Personal aversion to Styrofoam aside, it was only one point earned.  Not the end of the world.  But right before my interview I stopped by the bathroom, and as I washed my hands I realized I was faced with another dilemma.  I’ve gotten into the habit of substituting my pants for paper towels when no better alternative is available, and at that moment there was no better alternative available.  But could I risk tainting the good impression I had sacrificed a point to achieve by showing up with marginally damp hands?  Those are always the worst kind to shake.  I decided to keep my first point of the day from being taken in vain and sacrificed another to the pliable brown paper I had become so accustomed to avoiding.  Sadly, luck abandoned me and the scholarship landed in another’s hands, so both points still proved wasted in the end.

April 18, 2011 at 1:12 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

Wet Hands, Wine Tasting, and Unsustainable Sustainability

by Liz Miller

Before the challenge began, I thought it would be easy to go the entire month without earning a single point.  Irrational?  Perhaps.  Impossible?  I didn’t think so.  But then came the wine tasting.* It was only day one of the challenge, and I was already faced with my first potential dilemma.  I figured the wine shop would be classy enough to give us real glasses, but I wasn’t sure.  What if they served us in little plastic cups?  I would have to choose between my love of wine and my dreams of a point-free April.  Wanting to avoid the decision altogether, I texted a friend who had been there before to find out if my worries were warranted.  Minutes passed, but no answer arrived.  As I was about to leave with nothing but a bleak faith in the classiness of Wine Styles, I suddenly knew what to do.  I would just bring my own glass.  I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of that sooner, seeing as I was no stranger to bringing my own reusables.  I dug out the smallest cup in my eclectic collection of glassware and slipped it into my purse with a wave of relief.  Crisis averted.

My newest night out necessity

Of course, they did serve us in real wine glasses so it was never really even a crisis in the first place.  To top it off, they even bagged my friends’ bottles of wine in a fancy reusable without them even asking for it.  Even though my overthinking ended up being all for naught in this particular instance, this challenge has raised my awareness of the disposable products I had never really realized were such a part of my life.  I’ve found myself needing to take unsustainable measures to be fully sustainable, sometimes forgoing meals when my only available options are the plastic-wrapped sandwiches for sale in our student center’s food court.  I’ve been sparing myself points, but I’m also probably on a fast track to a mild case of malnutrition.

Despite my determination, my dreams of ending with zero points have already been shattered.  Sadly, it wasn’t a desire to gluttonize freely or spend Friday nights without my own glasses that did me in.  No, it was something far more mundane.  I had been zoning out at the sink, when I looked at my hands and there it was.  Never before had a damp paper towel seemed so sinister.  I stared at it in awe, as if it were a gun I’d mistakenly thought was unloaded before playing with the trigger.  It hadn’t even been three full days, and I had already earned the dreaded first point that I hoped would never come.  To top it all off, my accidental paper towel brought me to the uncomfortable realization that disposable items were more subconsciously ingrained in my life than I had thought.  Of course, all hope is not lost.  Sure, it’s too late for zero.  But I’ve still got a shot at one.

*Don’t worry, I’m 21.

April 5, 2011 at 6:54 am 1 comment

Let the No Impact Challenge begin…

by Liz Derby

So you may be wondering, what is the No Impact Challenge? and how did it come about?

Lets start from the very beginning. Last year, Northwestern student Liz Miller wrote a policy for the Roosevelt Institute focused on reducing the use of plastic bags through a bag tax.  Meanwhile, ECO (Environmental Campus Outreach), another NU student group was working on a similar project to reduce the use of plastic bags. Collaboration between the two groups lead forming the BaglessNU Campaign at the end of Fall quarter.

While BaglessNU tends to focus specifically on eliminating the use of plastic bags, we realized, as a group, that we should also cut down on the use of any item that we use just once and then throw away.  We wondered: what would happen if we skipped the paper cups at Norbucks and dined in the restaurant rather than getting take-out? What if we counted every one-time-use items up at the end of everyday to see what sort of environmental impact we were making? Thus, we decided to start this challenge.

1 month. 12 players. Countless ways to cut back.

Today is the first day of our challenge. So far, I’ve had a cup of coffee at home instead of at a coffee shop and used a cloth towel rather than a paper towel. Needless to say, I haven’t been awake for too many hours to have made any other substitutions, but, not to worry, we’ll keep you updated. Each day one (or more) of the 12 players will blog about their experience with the challenge: when its been hard to stick to their goals, when its been easier than expected, and everything else in between.

To the rest of the players, good luck! To other readers, I encourage you to join us — challenge yourself to decrease your impact. Tell us about your stories by tweeting @BaglessNU and using #NoImpactNU!

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April 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm Leave a comment


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