Restaurants in the nation’s capital are contending with a proposal that might be the next type of legislation to spread from coast to coast, following in the wagon ruts of trans fat bans and menu-labeling bills. Indeed, it’s surprising the industry has been spared the fight this long.
A number of jurisdictions—including New York City, the Start Here for the trans fat and menu labeling movements—have already considered the imposition of a charge on disposable bags. But most of those initiatives had been limited to the plastic or paper sacks provided to patrons by groceries and drug stores, with gourmet takeout shops perhaps added here or there (as was the case with the measure floated in New York in November, though it was limited to plastic bags).
Now bag-fee proposals are cropping up again, most noticeably along the coasts, and some aren’t exempting restaurants this time. Among them is New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg dusted off his plan and re-proposed it in late January, this time with restaurants included. He presented it as a way of combating litter, but noted it would also raise much-needed funds for Gotham.
Washington, D.C., is looking squarely at restaurants with its proposal that consumers pay a nickel fee for every bag, paper or plastic, they’re issued with a purchase. The measure is intended to cut litter, both by discouraging the use of disposable bags and raising money that could be used for clean-up and awareness campaigns.
Curiously, reports theWashington Business Journal, some D.C. restaurants support the measure because of its environmental benefits. The paper quotes one restaurateur as saying that a nickel surcharge isn’t really going to change consumer behavior.
It’s not a view shared by local industry lobbyists. The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington has argued that the industry is strained enough without the added burden of collecting a fee and potentially chasing away cost-conscious customers.
Proponents of bag fees point out that the adoption of cloth or other reusable bags would solve the problem. They note that reusables are commonplace in Europe, and that the trend is catching on in the States.
It looks as if we may soon learn how American consumers feel about it. The Washington measure is still being considered by the D.C. Council, with handicappers declining to say which way the rule-making body might lean.
The status of the New York proposal is unclear at this point. The mayor estimates that the measure would raise an additional $144 million for the city, at a time when it’s feeling the same financial pressures of every other jurisdictions. That alone is a tough argument to counter.