Jan. 1 ushered in a new era in Washington, D.C. It wasn't only the start of a new decade; it was also the day that the district's bag tax went into effect. Businesses in the District of Columbia that sell food or alcohol must charge customers 5 cents for every disposable paper or plastic carryout bag. The proceeds will go to the new Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund. Lawmakers estimate the new tax will produce about $3.6 million in revenue in the first year, funding that may decline as awareness grows and people get used to bringing reusable bags when they go shopping.

The district's Department of Environment has been working with local businesses to prepare for the change. The agency has tried to promote the upcoming tax in recent weeks by sending businesses logo stickers and signs reading "Skip the Bag, Save the River." 

Customers can avoid paying the 5-cent fee (and receive an additional credit at many stores) by bringing their own reusable bags from home. Some stores, such as Safeway and Giant, have been giving away free reusable bags in the hopes of easing the transition. The fee does not apply to bags used for newspapers, produce, hardware, frozen foods, plants, bakery items or prescription drugs.

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