New Study Indicates DC's Bag Fee Very Effective in Changing Behavior

Study of U.S. Capital’s Plastic Bag Fee Indicates Behavioral Change and Positive Support

On February 23, 2011, the Alice Ferguson Foundation (AFF), a leader of the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative in the Washington, D.C. metro area, released data from its research, “Public Perceptions and Willingness to Address Litter in the District of Columbia.” The research examines current opinions and perceptions of the District of Columbia citizens and business community on litter and public policy approaches, with special attention to the city’s bag fee.
The research, funded by the District Department of Environment (DDOE), concluded:

  • Littering is a widespread problem in the District, with as many as four in ten residents actively littering;
  • Unwanted litter is a problem for many of the District businesses surveyed; it results in increased operational costs; and
  • The recent D.C. bag fee has been overwhelmingly effective in changing behavior, with 75% of District residents reporting a reduction in their bag usage; and businesses reporting drastic reductions in bag usage.

Five-Cent Bag Fee Drastically Changes Citizen Behavior:
In January 2010, the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act of 2009, placed a five-cent fee on plastic and paper bags in businesses selling food or alcohol throughout the nation’s capital. AFF’s research shows that the bag fee has drastically changed behavior of citizens in their bag usage, and found overwhelming positive support for this law.

“Through AFF’s research, we were able to gather opinions from residents and a diverse set of businesses impacted by the bag fee” said Christophe Tulou, Director, DDOE. “Responses were favorable and knowledge of the five-cent fee seems to be close to universal. The bag fee is an extraordinary example of how public policy can have a positive impact for our environment.”

  • 75% of District resident respondents polled indicated that they have reduced their bag use since the fee was introduced in January 2010.
  • A majority of businesses said their consumption of bags is at least 50% lower as a result of the fee.
  • 78% of businesses had neutral or positive responses to how the bag fee was impacting their businesses -- 58% of businesses surveyed reported the bag fee has not affected their business at all; 20% said it has affected their business positively. Only 12% of business owners and managers said the bag fee has affected their business negatively.
  • When asked specifically what positives they see from the law, business owners and managers mentioned a reduction in litter and a benefit to their bottom line as they had to spend less on bags.
  • When asked specifically what negatives they see from the law, business owners/managers mentioned that some customers complain about the 5-cent fee, and that they are skeptical about where the money goes within the DC government.
  • When asked what the District of Columbia can do to better help the business community implement the law, the greatest response by businesses is for the DC government to provide more publicity of the law, which explains the fee to customers and how the government is using the fee.

For full press release, click here .

For further information on the AFF research, please visit or call 202.973.8203.