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.