Pay for Plastic in Howard County? Maybe.

Some state and county officials are contemplating a bag tax in Maryland.

Howard and Prince George’s counties are among the jurisdictions statewide that are exploring following in Montgomery County's footsteps and imposing a tax on plastic bags used at retail establishments. 

State officials also say they expect a movement to continue to make the bag tax mandatory statewide, following the momentum created by , the first jurisdiction in the state to implement a .

“I think there will be a continued strong push for statewide action,” said Del. Alfred Carr, D-Montgomery. “I think there’s a growing awareness among the public and legislators. … People realize the extent to which these plastic bags are ending up as litter and fouling the waterways.”

In Howard County, County Executive Ken Ulman has asked environmental protection staff members to research the concept of a bag tax and offer him options to consider, according to county spokesman Kevin Enright.

It is estimated the five cents people pay to use plastic bags in Montgomery County will generate $1.5 million in revenue for the first year--money officials said would be used for water quality programs.

Carr said that for the past three years he has been the lead sponsor of a statewide bag fee bill, which he said has stalled in committee each year.

A March Washington Post editorial blamed the bill’s 2010 failing on “election-year jitters” among lawmakers hesitant to approve a new tax.

Carr said he likely won’t be the lead sponsor on a similar bill this year since the measure passed in Montgomery, his district, but he said several groups were pushing for the measure.

Those include the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, which has made a plastic bag tax as one of its top priorities for the 2012 legislative session. Its proposal also includes using the revenue for water quality improvement efforts.

The idea of taxes on grocery bags also has its opponents.

The website bagtheban.com, a project of the plastic bag manufacturer Hilex Poly, said these types of taxes are a threat to jobs at bag manufacturing companies.

The site also says that reusable bags could breed bacterial contamination, if not regularly cleaned with soap and water, a claim backed by Charles Gerba, a professor at the University of Arizona.

Gerba’s study, published recently in the International Association for Food Protection's Food Protection Trends magazine,  like E. coli flourish in unwashed reusable bags.

There has also been some consumer backlash.

One Calverton resident : “I don’t feel that we should have to pay for bags for our groceries or anything else,” she said. “That should be something that we all should get free."

Montgomery’s bag tax follows the bag tax enacted in Washington, D.C., which is in effect for businesses that sell food or alcohol, according to The Washington Post.

In Maryland, most counties need state legislative approval to pass a tax; Baltimore city and county, and Montgomery County are the only jurisdictions that don't need legislative approval, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamentez has “no interest in pursuing a bag tax,” said county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.

Carroll County commissioners also said the bag tax wouldn’t come to fruition in their area.

“Any new tax or tax hike is wrong in this economic climate,” said commissioner Haven Shoemaker. “When did it become government's job to determine what type of shopping bags people should use? In my opinion, that would be the nanny state run amok.”

Similarly, commissioner Robin Frazier said it should be up to the free market to adjust consumer behavior.

“When citizens and businesses decide that plastic bags are worse for the environment than they are useful and affordable, they will stop using them and the market will adjust,” she said.

Prince George’s County officials are actively pursuing the tax. State Sen. Paul Pinskey and Del. Barbara Frush, both Democrats from Prince George’s, have said they plan to seek legislative approval to allow county officials to levy the tax.

Weigh in below or vote in our poll: Should there be a statewide tax on plastic bags used at retail establishments?

Brandie Jefferson January 11, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Generally, do you guys bring your own bags to stores. Grocery stores? Other stores? Does that affect how you feel about the tax?
Katy January 11, 2012 at 09:19 PM
I bring my own bags, and even have some nifty cotton-mesh bags with drawstrings for produce so I don't have to use those plastic produce bags either. I like discounts for bringing your own bag, a plastic bag tax, or whatever it takes to encourage BYOB.
LRD January 12, 2012 at 01:43 AM
Seems unlikely.
JWK January 12, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Disposable bags ARE a problem! I can't walk 50 feet without seeing more plastic bags littered all over the place. Our streams and oceans are littered with bags - to see how bad this problem is, do a Google search of "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." Recyling of plastics bags is overrated - more new material needs to be added whenever recyled material is used, so don't be fooled into thinking that recycling is the solution. It may be convenient to have free plastic bags available at the store, but it sure isn't convenient dealing with the mess they create. And it's really quite easy and convenient to bring your own bags. The mass availability of disposable plastic bags has created a culture of convenience where we expect new, free one-time use bags every time we buy anything. Unfortunately very few people are willing to take any responsibility to slow down this endless cycle of destruction. Too many people only care about what's convenient for them right now. This is not a situation where the "free market" will fix the problem. The bag manufacturers profit from this mess - their only incentive is to sell as many bags as they can, whether it destroys our planet or not. If a bag tax helps reduce bag use, I support it. We all need to take responsibility and do what we can to minimize bag use. It's easy and convenient to pick up a couple Chico or similar reusable bags which fold into a small size, can be easily washed and are much stronger than disposable plastic.
JWK January 12, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I carry a couple of nylon re-usable bags (similar to Chico bags) with me nearly all the time for smaller trips to any store. We keep larger bags in the car for bigger shopping trips. Many stores, including Target, give a discount for using your own bags. If a tax is imposed I would like to see those funds earmarked for cleanup efforts. Store discounts are great, and I applaud the stores that provide such discounts.


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