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People use fewer bags when charged for them

Since we’re all about plastic bags over here lately, it may interest you to know that the bag tax in Washington D.C. reduced the total number of bags used last month to 3.3 million, down from 22.5 million in the previous month without a tax.

This is great news! Not only are far fewer bags being used and thrown away — a waste of resources and damaging to the environment — but the revenues from the nickel-a-bag tax will fund a local river cleanup project. That’s almost $150,000 in cleanup money from January alone!

Some critics of the bag tax have pointed out that the revenue is coming in below expectations. Okay. Sure. This is why the framing of environmental problems is so important. If what we’re trying to do is reduce the number of discarded plastic bags clogging up our environment, then the bag tax is an unmitigated success. If we’re trying to plug holes in the local budget, then maybe it hasn’t accomplished what had been proposed.

According to my standard – the reduction of trash in the environment – this is a great success story, and a pretty nice example of reducing an unwanted environmental cost by internalizing an economic externality.

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