Keep the change. Bring your bag. Fight litter. -- Gazette.Net


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Once the Thanksgiving dishes go into the dishwasher — or maybe even before — the minds of many Montgomery County residents will turn to one of America’s favorite non-spectator sports: shopping.

Even those less taken with the materialism of the season will venture forth in search of presents for Christmas and Hannukah. Some county store owners will make up to a third of their money for the whole year in the five weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

It all begins with Black Friday. And Montgomery County, working with our partners in community organizations and the business community, are looking to turn “Black Friday” into “Green Friday.”

Yes, we’ll be out in the wee hours Friday, distributing information about the new county bag law that goes into effect on Jan. 1.

The message?

“Keep the change. Bring your bag. Fight litter.”

Many county residents already use non-disposable bags. Come Jan. 1, we’ll all have an incentive to do so.

That’s when Montgomery County’s bag law starts. All county retailers starting then must charge 5 cents per bag for plastic and paper bags.

The exceptions: bags used before you get to a cashier for wrapping meat and fish, produce and bulk grains; prescription bags; paper carry-out bags in restaurants; and any bags from farmers’ markets.

The choice is yours. This law will cost you nothing if you reuse bags —- they can be the reusable kind or bags of any sort from your favorite stores that you may already have around the house. The county will be distributing tens of thousands of bags free to low-income and senior populations. If you want to continue using plastic or paper bags provided by retailers, they will be 5 cents each.

This is not about nickel-and-diming county residents. In fact, this is one situation where the less money the county takes in, the happier we’ll be. That’s because it will mean more and more folks are bringing reusable bags when they shop.

Right now, disposable bags comprise one-third of the litter found in county streams and stormwater ponds. Every year, the county spends approximately $3 million for litter prevention and clean-up programs. Revenues from the bag law will reduce these costs.

Any money the county takes in will cover the cost of free bag distribution to residents who need them, educating our public about the program, and litter prevention. If any funds remain, they would go to the Water Quality Protection Fund, which provides resources to help maintain our rivers and streams throughout the county.

A similar law was passed in Washington, D.C., more than a year ago. The result? A 60 percent drop in the use of paper and plastic bags in a single year.

More than 50 county businesses, retailers’ associations, and community organizations are joining with the county to raise public awareness of the new law. Safeway and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission are both donating bags of their own that can be distributed. Barwood Taxi is donating cab-top space — and some bags of its own, as well — to spread the word. J.C. Penney is donating the penny that retailers get to keep out of the 5-cent charge to after-school programs in the county.

Check out the county’s new website for more information: www.montgomerycountymd.gov/bag.

We all want to save the planet, but — sometimes — it is hard to know where to start. But, it’s really simple. By changing — just a little — what we all do day in and day out, we can all make our mark. We can save money. We can help the environment.

So, as you brave the lines and traffic at whatever hour on Black Friday and are thinking about what to get certain people on your list, consider a reusable bag. If you’re buying wrapping paper or looking at paper gift bags, consider a reusable bag, instead.

And, as you start thinking about your New Year’s resolutions, consider this one: “Bring your bag. Fight litter. Keep the change.”

Isiah Leggett, Rockville

The writer is Montgomery County’s executive.