In the midst of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, Washington D.C. officials are hitting area shoppers with a brand new tax on shopping bags.

The new 5-cent tax, approved unanimously by the D.C. City Council last June, applies to every disposable paper and plastic bag a customer carries out of businesses that sell food or alcohol. An estimate from the Progressive Bag Affiliates of the American Chemistry Council puts the cost to Washingtonians at $5 million this year.

Instituting a costly new retail tax, particularly in today’s economy, has the potential to reduce business activity and harm struggling consumers, but supporters insist the cost is worth reducing pollution. History has shown that that is not necessarily the case though.

In 2007, the city of San Francisco banned plastic bags altogether in an attempt to reduce the amount of plastic bag pollution in the city. However, when the city conducted a litter audit, it was “revealed that plastic bag litter remained the same: 0.6% of litter composition.”

While we Texans may be tempted to sit back and watch with bemusement, it wasn’t long ago that we were under similar threat.

During last year’s legislative session, House Bill 1361 would have imposed a tax of “7 cents on each disposable plastic bag provided by a retailer to a customer to carry out purchased items,” but the bill never made it out of committee. You can bet that supporters of HB 1361 are watching the D.C. bag tax experiment closely, hoping that it doesn’t fail like in San Francisco and gives them cover to try again next session.

– James Quintero