The District of Columbia instituted a 5 cent tax on plastic grocery bags this week. So after work today I'll tote my reusable bag—the one I already owned thanks to plenty of private sector initiatives on this front—to the grocery store to buy small trash bags for the garbage cans in my house that used to be lined with leftover grocery bags. While I'm at the store, I'll probably run into the city's dog owners, who now need a new way to scoop and store canine poo. And once we're there, purchasing products to offset the intended effect of reducing consumption, predicts Jillian Melchior of Commentary, our wait in line will be longer than it was before:
A nickel might not seem like much. But anyone who has lived recently in Hong Kong and experienced their 6-cent bag tax knows how burdensome that levy makes commerce. There, grocery-store clerks must cram as much as possible into a single, side-split reusable bag – or face a perturbed customer. (Never underestimate the public's desire to save a buck.) Milk, butter, and eggs become Tetris blocks; and consequently, the checkout lines grow longer and longer as clerks painstakingly pack for maximum space efficiency….
The nice thing about living in Washington is that voters choose all of their city-council members, unlike Hong Kongers. Next time they're voting, the harried shoppers of D.C. might remember this lesson in the unintended consequences of government meddling.
The tax isn't all downside though. Perhaps the eventual abolition of disposable grocery sacs will stave off future abominations like the extended The Plastic Bag Was Just Dancing with Me, Like a Little Kid Begging Me to Play With It rapture from American Beauty: