Plastic Bag Taxes Don’t Hurt Low-Income People

My cousin Kelly Davis worked hard on the recent campaign to convince the government of Washington, D.C. to pass a “bag tax” on single-use plastic shopping bags within the district. Now, if D.C. shoppers want a bag with their purchase they have to pay a nickel.

Kelly told me opponents to the tax argued that it would disproportionally affect lower-income folks. Well I live and shop in a low-income part of the city, and I have never once heard a complaint about the bag charge from anyone who lives there, only from media pundits and those who live in the leafier parts of town.

I suspect that those who are struggling have more important things to worry about, like looking for work, making it on time to a second job, or caring for a sick relative. In all the hubbub about the proposed bag tax, did people ask low-income folks if the issue was really important to them? Or did they just rush to conclusion?


What I do see is a lot of people bringing their own bags to the store, stuffing groceries in backpacks and in carts, and toting items in their pockets.

Like a good number of D.C. residents, I don’t have a car, so I have to walk all my groceries home (I don’t buy a lot of liquids as a result). I put the heaviest items in the bottom of my backpack, which I use every day anyway. Then I layer everything else in two Baggu-style bags that I always have with me, in a pocket of my backpack. (They also fold up into their own pouches, to the size of a wallet, if that’s easier, though I normally don’t bother with that.)

The large handles and tough nylon of the bags makes them much easier to carry than plastic bags, which dig into the fingers and have a tendency to break. My bags sling right over my shoulders, which carry most of the weight.

And the best part? Both of those bags were free. I got one at a promo day at a zoo, and the other was a gift. If you don’t have one, you can get one for a few bucks at many different stores. If you don’t have a backpack, check your local thrift store. Canvas totes also work well for produce. They are sometimes given away free or can be picked up for a couple of dollars.

Get Real

Wanting to make sure green changes don’t negatively impact lower-income people is admirable, but we need to make sure it’s a real issue first. In my neighborhood, people seem just as likely to have reusable bags as in the fancy stores across town. A reusable bag is extremely affordable, and often free if one reuses packaging from another vendor. It’s easy enough for everyone to have one on hand; in the off chance that you forget, a nickel probably isn’t going to break your bank, unlike say, not having any health care.

Everyone needs clean air and water, and a litter-free place to live.

Check out this infographic on the hazards of plastic bags:

Changing Planet