December 1, 2011
By Miriam Laufer
DC Spotlight Magazine, Living the Life
The new Montgomery County carryout bag tax will be effective on January 1, 2012. The five cent tax will apply to each paper or plastic bag that a retail establishment provides to a customer. Exceptions include bags from pharmacies that contain prescription drugs, bags used to package a bulk item, and paper bags for prepared food from restaurants. The law is modeled on the similar law that enacted in Washington, D.C. on January 1, 2010.
Similar to the District’s law, which utilizes revenue from the tax for the Anacostia River Protection Fund, the revenue for the Montgomery County tax will benefit the county’s Water Quality Protection Fund. Local retail establishments will be allowed to retain one cent of each fee to offset administrative costs in remitting the taxes to the county.
Plastic bags are a major source of litter both in Montgomery County and around the country. Because plastic is not biodegradable, it lingers in waterways and storm water drains. The tax is meant to encourage consumers to bring their own reusable bags when shopping. Those who choose to buy plastic bags will be contributing to the clean-up of litter in county waterways, which cost the county $3 million in 2009. “We were informed that a similar tax had changed consumer behavior for the better in Washington, D.C. and reduced waterway pollution there,” Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal said. “I know it will take a little time for my constituents to get used to it, but I’m sure they will soon become accustomed to bringing their bags with them to the store as people in Washington, D.C. have done.”
Some Montgomery County residents are not particularly pleased with the environmentally friendly measure. Outside the Giant Store at Muddy Branch on the day before Thanksgiving, residents voiced their disproval openly. “I don’t like it at all,” said Cynthia Henry, of Gaithersburg.
Many residents question the measure and complain that most consumers will forget to bring their reusable bags, leading to a more cumbersome task for shoppers. Monika Roberts, also of Gaithersburg, remarked that she always uses the store’s plastic bags because she forgets to bring the reusable bags. “I don’t think [the law]will help at all” in reminding shoppers to bring reusable bags, she said.
Retail establishments are cooperating with the new legislation. “We defer to the city and local legislation…” said Jenna Reck, a spokesperson for Target, “and we aim to make [the legislation]easier on our guests by promoting the use of reusable bags.” Since November 2009, all Target stores have offered a five cent discount for customers who bring reusable bags. Target also sells reusable bags. In response to the green zeitgeist around the country, some online businesses specifically sell environmentally friendly products, including reusable bags made from organic and recycled cotton.
Montgomery County residents can buy these bags in preparation for the new tax at http://www.reuseit.com or http://www.onebagatatime.com. Bags can be bought in fun patterns, like the five-bag Envirosax set with animal prints ($24.95), or the more utilitarian Earth Tote ($9.95). One Bag at a Time sells customized bags. Websites like these were started to reduce and eliminate the use of plastic bags in keeping with the mission of the new Montgomery County law. Some residents of the county have taken the preemptive action of buying full sets of cloth bags, which environmentalists argue will quickly become the natural manner of shopping.