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Bag Tax Reduces Usage in Silver Spring, But County Still Hesitant

“It’s a nuisance,” Jerry Bennett, store manager of Strosniders Hardware, said of the 5-cents per bag fee.

Montgomery County’s five-cent tax on disposable bags has been an almost unmitigated success. In its first year, it raked in more than $2 million in revenue, which is then earmarked for solid waste management, watershed restoration, litter pick-up and stormwater management. Yet, a little more than a year later, many in Silver Spring have misgivings about the tax.

“It’s a nuisance,” Jerry Bennett, store manager of Strosniders Hardware, said. “It’s one more transaction that slows lines down, customers have to decide if they need a bag; it just takes more time.”

The county is cognizant of the complaints. At a March 21 meeting, a Montgomery council committee discussed a possible exclusion of the tax at clothing stores and other non-grocery stores. It also conferred about the possibility of banning plastic bags outright.

As it stands, the fee is designed to alter the habits of customers to make them more environmentally friendly. Bags account for an estimated one-third of the litter found in streams and stormwater ponds in the county, County Executive Isiah Leggett told residents in an online chat. If the county could halt bag use, lawmakers reasoned, it could use the funds to make a dent in the clean-up process while also cutting the disposable bags that could further pollute.

While the debate continues, the effects of the bag-tax have been fairly conclusive.

“I’ve really noticed how many fewer bags we go through,” said Zak Miller, store manager of Pacers Running Store in Silver Spring. “It’s three or four a day instead of like 30.”

Bag usage is “way down,” according to Bennett, and Miller said only about 10 to 15 percent of customers take bags, as tax-conscious customers either bring in reusable ones or forgo bags altogether.

Some customers, though, have criticized the tax, saying it’s an unnecessary burden. But the complainers have not been too vocal, Miller said.

“Occasionally someone might be a bit standoffish about it, but that’s been pretty rare,” he said.

The bag tax has not seemed to have an effect on overall business, both Bennett and Miller said.

Zinzindor April 15, 2013 at 09:26 PM
The bag tax has been a classic example of poorly-thought out policy, rife with unintended negative consequences. The negative consequences include the inconvenience (to retailer and customer) noted by Mr. Bennett above, as well as health risks and increased shoplifting. Furthermore, there is some evidence that the bag tax leads to increases in litter, as well. For more documentation, see the link below. http://leviathanmontgomery.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/what-to-do-about-the-bag-tax/
jag April 15, 2013 at 11:43 PM
Awesome news. Glad to see our bag usage has dropped off just like DC's before us. Hilarious to see critics making up crap about health risks, shoplifting, and increases in litter (seriously???). Talk about laughable gibberish.
Woodside Park Bob April 16, 2013 at 10:54 AM
The tax is a giveaway to big business retailers like Giant, Safeway, Target, etc. They get to keep 20 percent of the tax collected -- 1 cent out of the 5 cent tax on each bag. They get to keep a much smaller proportion of the state sales tax to cover their expenses in collecting that tax. Plus they no longer have the expense of providing bags to customers. The county ought to repeal the bag tax, if not completely, at least at all businesses that sell things too big to fit in normal reusable bags. If the tax is not repealed, the proportion of the tax retailers get to keep ought to be reduced to the same proportion they get to keep of the sales tax. End the giveaway to big business! Also, it is hard to say the tax has been a success. It was supposedly designed to eliminate bag use. But given the large amount of money that has been collected by the tax, it clearly isn't eliminating a huge amount of bag use. It is simply unjustly enriching retailers who get to keep 20 percent of the tax.
Whitney Teal April 16, 2013 at 04:09 PM
very good point. a "success" would be to not rake in millions of dollars. thanks for your thoughts!
Zinzindor April 16, 2013 at 06:26 PM
Hey, what a great tactic. I have my preconceived notions, and any other evidence is just “made-up crap.” Congratulations. You’d make a great politician: “I don’t care about the facts. I want this to work, so I believe it does work.” Or maybe I’m misjudging you. Maybe you’ve examined the consequences of the policy. Did the evidence from Seattle or Dublin or DC fail to convince you? Were Councilmember Rice’s observations insignificant? Did you perhaps have methodological differences with the research report from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University? (Half of the reusable bags they tested had coliform bacteria). Or what about the conclusions of researchers at University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University: “Conservative estimates of the costs and benefits of the San Francisco plastic bag ban suggest the health risks they impose are not likely offset by environmental benefits.” Of course, this is all wasted on closed-minded people who dismiss research out of hand if it disagrees with them. But I'm confident that, on the other hand, intelligent readers will get something out of it.

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