7-Eleven, the store where bums wait outside by the Redbox to harrass you for change after you buy yourself a $1 slice of something pizza-like, is suddenly trying to act like it's all fancy. The convenience chain is charging Dallas customers a whole 15 cents if they need to carry their groceries out in a plastic bag. Under the Great Dallas Bag Ordinance of 2015, stores were supposed to charge us only 5 cents for single-use carryout bags, a charge that has caused great pain and wailing among many First World shoppers.
But under the confusing ordinance, a nickel a bag is not always a nickel. Whole Foods' well-heeled customers pay no fee, because the store successfully made the case that its paper bags are not single-use but reusable. Under the ordinance, recyclable paper bags are given to customers free of charge if the bags can survive 100 reuses at 16 pounds each.
But the 7-Eleven plastic bag occupies a strange gray area. It pretends it is also reusable, with a "Please Reuse or Recycle Bag" line printed at the bottom. It's a thick and sturdy plastic bag that could carry many cans of Bud Ice without tearing. Yet it's priced as if it's made out of three whole straight-to-the-landfill bags. A recent receipt of mine said it all: "1 Bag fee 0.15."
The chain's corporate headquarters didn't return messages Tuesday afternoon, but Dallas city officials say that businesses are free to go well above the 5-cent requirement for single-use bags. In fact, both Councilman Dwaine Caraway's secretary Gloria Flores and Councilman Philip Kingston say that they have heard of other stores in Dallas charging customers as much as 25 cents per plastic bag.
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"Businesses can charge whatever they want for bags. However the environmental fee is five cents," says city spokesman Richard Hill in an email.
With only 5 cents going to the city's environmental fee, it's not clear what 7-Eleven is doing with the other 10 cents from their bags. One guess is that they're keeping the money and laughing at us.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.