2012: the (Montgomery County) year of the bag

by Robin (noteverstill) on January 3, 2012


image via wokka

On Sunday, after the wine glasses from the last toasts of 2011 were washed and your black-eyed peas enjoyed, you started planning for re-entry back into everyday life. Work and school beckon, you’ll have a fresh resolution to try weekly menu planning in your mind, and you’ll find yourself making a list for your first visit of the year to your grocery store.

If you live in Montgomery County, before listing ‘grapes’ and ‘milk,’ you should write ‘BRING REUSEABLE BAGS’ in big letters on your shopping list.

As of January 1st, Montgomery County’s Carryout Bag Law is in effect; stores will charge shoppers five cents for every disposable bag they need. This includes paper and plastic bags; department store bags and grocery store bags; even that little bag from the gas station because you really needed that chocolate bar. (Hey, I’m not judging. I know you needed it.) Exceptions include pharmacy bags and carry-out bags from restaurants.

The new law was modeled on DC’s bag law, but don’t let the DC guidelines trip you up if you’re shopping in MoCo: there, politicians have taken the opportunity to tax much further by applying it to almost all retail establishments.

The reasons given for the tax are two-fold. One stated goal is to reduce the number of plastic bags that become litter in the county, but by charging the five-cent tax on paper bags, as well, the County hopes to discourage all use of disposable bags and incentivize green habits. Revenue from the tax will be deposited into the County’s Water Quality Protection Charge Fund, although if the DC tax is truly a model for Montgomery County, it’s possible that the Fund will not realize much benefit. After the DC bag tax went into effect last year, use of disposable bags  dropped so dramatically that the projected tax revenue was never realized.

On the Olney-Brookeville Exchange, my neighborhood listserv, reactions to the upcoming tax have been mixed, and very heated on both sides. The environmentally-friendly aspects of the tax have been touted enthusiastically, but some residents feel very bothered by the inconvenience. Others have cited the current state of the economy as a terrible time to add a new tax on local shoppers, and some have expressed dismay that they already reuse their bags in practical ways like cleaning up after their dogs, and will now have to spend money for such supplies. Some expressed that for large shopping trips, it will be worthwhile to drive into Howard County where bags are still free (for now).

So what are your plans for the new year: are you adding a dollar to your weekly shopping budget or investing in reusable bags? Or are you on the fence?

If you haven’t formed your 2012 shopping bag strategy yet, let me see if I can nudge you toward a green decision. Three words: Sesame Street bags.

May I recommend these adorable, washable, sturdy nylon shopping bags with Elmo, Oscar, Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Grover on them. You know you want them. Or your little shopping assistant undoubtedly does.

Now that the law has gone into effect, it’s time to get your bags in the car, even if they are not this cute. Whatever you do, have a wonderful happy new year!

When Robin isn’t schlepping all over the DC area in her station wagon filled with kids and nylon shopping bags, you can find her writing on her own blog, The Not-Ever-Still Life. You can also find her on FacebookGoogle+, and Twitter.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Stimey January 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Yeah. I went grocery shopping this morning and felt like the only idiot there who had forgotten her bags. It cost me 30¢. It seems that this bag tax may work though. Lots of people with little purchases were carrying them out without bags and it seemed like more people were using reusables—hence my feeling like a terrible environmentalist and money waster.

Also, Giant in Montgomery County right now is having a sale on reusable bags. They’re buy one get one free, so that means they’re 50¢ each.

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Robin (noteverstill) January 5, 2012 at 11:16 am

I bought pajamas for my kids at Kohl’s yesterday and got a new free reusable bag. I think a lot of places are giving out a new bag this week.

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Jessica McFadden - A Parent in Silver Spring January 5, 2012 at 11:08 am

I am feeling the new bag law. Now we each hold one bag while we shop (the two older kids and me) and shoving big items beneath the jogging stroller, and I have found I am cutting way back on lame impulse purchases.

Of course, now I have to also purchase *disposable* bags for depositing the litter box goodies, so in my household, it is not exactly super eco-y.

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Robin (noteverstill) January 5, 2012 at 11:15 am

You know, Jess, that’s an interesting point – I was doing more reading this week (since I first wrote this) about the effects of the law, and most environmentalists point out that if we really want to reduce pollution locally, a larger problem in terms of impact is plastic bottles. Apparently MoCo has been “in process” of passing a 5 cent surcharge on bottles and cans such as are found in many other parts of the country for years now, but without cooperation of other local municipalities, they’ve never pushed it through. So this might improve our behaviors going forward but isn’t necessarily the huge environmental impact it’s touted to be.

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aimee @ smilingmama January 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm

This will also be considered in Prince George’s County soon and while I’m 100% in favor of it, I also think that sometimes *easy* fixes like a bag tax let us take our eyes off the larger picture. The bottom line is that decreasing the # of plastic bags out there will help some but we also need some MUCH bigger fixes to really make a difference for our environment.

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