Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett today proposed new legislation that would place a five-cent charge on each paper or plastic carryout bag provided by retail establishments in the County to customers at the point of sale, pickup or delivery. Retailers would receive a one-cent rebate on each plastic bag to help cover administrative costs. The new law would take effect January 1, 2012.
Revenues from the tax -- estimated at about $1.5 million in the first year -- would be directed to the Water Quality Protection Fund (WQPF) that pays for things such as stormwater management, watershed restoration and litter clean-up. Plastic bags are one of the top four items found in County streams and stormwater controls. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) staff said that in 2009 the County spent approximately $3 million for litter prevention and clean-up programs.
Speaking at a news conference in Rockville, Leggett said that this proposed legislation complements other steps already taken by the County that have made it an environmental leader. “Montgomery County has achieved a reputation as a leader in adopting innovative environmental policies, both locally and nationally – from our expansive recycling programs to air and water quality protection and land preservation policies that have often set new standards. This new legislation adds another dimension to our environmental accomplishments.
“I am proud to say,” Leggett stated, “that many consumers in Montgomery County are already bringing their own bags when they shop or are just refusing bags. We want to encourage even more residents to get on the bandwagon and take a very simple step that can help improve local water quality and protect our precious waterways. This is one very tangible way that people can say, ‘Look, I’m doing my part.’”
“In fact,” Leggett explained, “we would consider declining revenues from this legislation a win, because it means fewer bags in circulation and less government dollars spent on clean-up.”
The proposed law defines a “retail establishment” as any supermarket, convenience store, shop, service station, restaurant or any other sales outlet where a customer purchases goods.”
The customer’s receipt will indicate the number of carryout bags that have been provided by the store and the total charge levied.
Exempt under the law are:
- a bag provided by a pharmacist that contains prescription drugs;
- any newspaper bag or bag intended for initial use as a garbage, pet waste or yard waste bag;
- a bag provided at the point of sale at a stand at a seasonal event such as a farmers market; or
- a paper bag that a restaurant provides to a customer to take prepared food or drink away from the restaurant.
Under the law, retail establishments would remit -- on or before the 25th of each month -- the “full amount of the tax collected for carryout bags provided to customers during the previous month, less the one-cent amount retained….” However, the law reduces processing and administrative costs by requiring retailers “to remit the taxes…when the cumulative tax collections…since the previous remittance…exceed $100.”
The County’s Finance Department will oversee the collection/reporting process through a specially designed website.
“As a member of the Chesapeake Bay Trust, I am committed to the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries,” said Council President Valerie Ervin. “The carryout bag legislation proposed by the County Executive is intended to encourage our residents to reduce their use of plastic bags which will, in turn, protect our streams and waterways and improve our overall water quality.”
“Our commitment to a Trash Free Potomac will move a significant step closer with the adoption of the bag tax,” said Council Vice President Roger Berliner. “It is a win/win that gives everyone the freedom to either carry a bag or buy a bag. A simple solution to a complex problem.”
District Bag Tax Draws Positive Response
Local officials say that they have been encouraged by the positive response to the DC bag tax reported in a recent survey conducted by the Alice Ferguson Foundation.
According to the survey:
- 75% of District residents respondents polled indicated that they have reduced their bag use since the fee was introduced in January 2010.
- A majority of businesses said their consumption of bags is at least 50% lower as a result of the fee.
- 78% of businesses had neutral or positive responses to the how the bag fee was impacting their businesses -- 58% of businesses surveyed reported the bag fee has not affected their business; 20% said it has affected their business positively.
- Only 12% of business owners and managers said the bag fee has affected their business negatively.
Like Montgomery County’s proposed tax, the bulk of the District’s bag tax goes to support improved water quality.
The District Department of the Environment Director Christophe Tulou said, “The District’s Bag Bill is evidence that $.05 cent can lead to behavioral changes that will reduce the number of disposal bags entering our waterways and landfills and positively impact our environment.
“Equally important, we have inspired public discourse on and created public awareness of water quality issues. The District has found the bag bill to be an extraordinary example of how public policy can have a positive impact for our environment.”
Tulou said, “I am delighted that Montgomery County is enacting similar legislation to reduce bag litter. Pollution is not constrained by jurisdictional boundaries. It is only through regional approach that we will be able to achieve our shared goals of restoring the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers to a swimmable and fishable condition.”
Support from the Environmental Community
Diane Cameron of the Audubon Naturalist Society expressed strong support for the Montgomery County bag fee bill, noting that “Plastic bags are fouling our streams, endangering wildlife and wasting fossil fuels. It's fun and easy to use re-usable shopping bags, and this modest 5-cents-per-bag fee would go a long way to encouraging more Montgomery residents to shift to reusable bags and in so doing, help to clean up our streams and rivers.”
Diana E. Conway, president of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance said, “This legislation has been long-awaited by the environmental community and will help to ensure that one of the largest contributors to polluting our waterways and fouling our shores is addressed and minimized. We look forward to working with the Executive and Council in getting the word out and educating the public on the importance of reducing waste from bags.”
To help promote the use of reusable bags DEP will have limited quantities of recycled content/recyclable carryout bags available for distribution before the January 1 effective date.
For more information on the carryout bag tax and to see the legislation, visit http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/trashfree.
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