On New Year’s Day of this year, Dallas implemented its Carryout Bag Ordinance and began charging customers a five-cent “environmental fee” for every disposable bag used in retail. Three months into the year, Dallas retailers reported distributing approximately 11 million single-use bags. The Dallas Morning News estimated, based on a national average of 335 disposable bags used per person annually, that Dallas’ first quarter should have been in the ballpark of 90 million.
Dallas isn’t the first city to get tough on plastic bags. D.C. started its initiative in 2010, and Austin implemented the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance in 2013. Portland, Maine, adopted a five-cent bag charge last month. Chicago has plans to implement a similar strategy this August, and Seattle, which banned plastic altogether, has been charging for paper bags since 2012.
If the numbers are accurate, a decline from 90 million to 11 million disposable bags in three months signals a marked shift in consumer waste for Dallas. According to a poll by the Morning News, 60 percent of Dallas residents claim to now be bringing their own bags to the store and carrying out smaller items without a bag.
The new ordinance didn’t come without controversy, of course. In recent weeks, four plastic bag manufacturers tried to sue the city of Dallas for violating Texas law, arguing the five-cent “environmental fee” is an illegal tax.
In D.C., a paper and plastic bag charge was initially touted as a way to fund cleanup of the city’s Anacostia River. The Washington Post reports this week that in the years since the nickel fee was implemented, $10 million has been raised for the cause, though the Post does question the true efficacy of the funds due to a lack of concrete data on the river’s progress.
In Dallas, the bag charge was a result of plastic bags’ toll on the environment and the general build-up of litter. Though local residents were divided on the charge, supporters of the new policy see it as a first step toward more environmentally minded practices in the city.
Marielle Mondon is an editor and freelance journalist in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia City Paper, Wild Magazine, and PolicyMic. She previously reported on communities in Northern Manhattan while earning an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University.