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Bag tax controversy heats up again


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Published on: Thursday, March 28, 2013

By Holden Wilen

ROCKVILLE –   Montgomery County’s controversial bag tax brought in more than two and half times its originally projected revenue last year and some members of the county council say the law is breeding resentment among residents.

Montgomery County is the only county in Maryland to mandate the five-cent fee on plastic bags. Now the Montgomery County Council is considering modifying the tax so it only affects grocery stores.

On March 21, the Montgomery County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T and E) Committee met for the yearly review of the bag tax.

During the session, Councilman Roger Berliner said the bill hasn’t worked according to plan.

“I feel like we want to have a tax where we can actually induce behavioral changes and I totally get it at grocery stores and our public gets it at grocery stores, though it may aggravate them, they can get used to bringing in a reusable bag. To bring in a reusable bag at Home Depot is not something that is on most people’s consciousness and I don’t think it ever will be. My concern is that it breeds resentment,” said Councilman Roger Berliner.

Bob Hoyt, Director of the Department of Environmental Protection in Montgomery County, disagreed. “This is one of the most successful programs I have ever seen and I think it’s far too early to be saying we need to tweak it,” said Hoyt.

According to statistics given by Hoyt, $2.5 million in revenue was raised from 60 million taxed bags in the County. Also, according to Hoyt, prior to the bag tax the county used almost 89 million bags annually, but Statistics from Trash Free MD state the number in Montgomery was closer to 300 million.

Hoyt insists the county did not set up the tax to increase county revenue and will put all of the revenue into the water fund.

Donna Dempsey, spokesperson and President of American Progressive Bag Alliance says for those opposed to the bag tax, recycling is a viable alternative.

“I understand that they are going to collect twice as much revenue, which means the behavioral change they were going for to push people to reusable bags is not working. I have seen no data whatsoever of reduced litter, so we would love to have a dialogue to sit with them and say, ‘why don’t we work together to increase recycling?’” said Dempsey.

Meanwhile a move in the legislature to institute a bag tax statewide died after the measure passed in the senate environmental affairs committee but failed to pick up support in the House of Delegates.

Julie Law, director of Trash Free MD Alliance an organization who helped co-author the bill, says the bill is about changing behaviors not about revenue.

“We want people to think more about their choices, they are already paying for the bags. The retailers have to buy them and if they’re giving them away for free, they have to recoup the cost somehow and they do that by putting the cost on the product that you’re buying. On the other end, the tax payers pay for litter clean up and recycling facilities and if people can think about the products that they use and look at their day to day life that is what we’re hoping to accomplish here,” said Lawson.

Reader Comments - 1 Total

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Posted By: Bill from Rockville On: 4/1/2013

Title: Resentment is right Mr. Berliner.

You'd look pretty silly heading into a restaurant or take out place with a bag too.
I deeply resesented the tax initially and still do as it applies to anything but grocery stores. I do take bags with me when I plan on shopping and that probably is a good change.
I will remember which Council members approved the tax (and haven't modified it) when elections come.




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