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.