Image

Credit: Flander | iStockphoto.com

The answer depends on who's paying. Since 2009, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 states have tried to limit plastic and paper bag proliferation with taxes, fees, and/or outright bans. Many efforts are designed to raise money to clean up local waters, but their effectiveness is debatable.

The District of Columbia raised $2 million in tax revenues — half the expected amount, which is earmarked for the Anacostia River — the first year of its 5-cent charge on each paper or plastic bag. North Carolina has prohibited plastic bags in the Outer Banks, 200 miles of islands that comprise a major tourist destination, since 2009. That was the year Seattle residents voted down a 20-cent tax on plastic bags; but on July 1, a measure that bans plastic carry-out bags but allows retailers to charge 5 cents per paper bag goes into effect. Those funds are intended to help Seattle Public Utilities restore Puget Sound.

In January, West Virginia proposed a 5-cent tax on plastic bags that grocery, drug, and convenience stores are not allowed to pass on to customers. (To meet its mandated recycling goal of 50%, the state also proposed a 5-cent deposit on beverage bottles.) No state has banned the use of either material statewide.