County should limit bag tax to groceries, restaurants -- Gazette.Net


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Levy should be limited to groceries, restaurants

Fifty-five million times, give or take, Montgomery businesses in 2012 collected a nickel from their customers. These people chose to deposit their lunch, their groceries or other purchases in plastic bags. They could have brought their own bags, or done without, but their decisions meant the county treasury pocketed $2.2 million. (Retailers kept a penny a bag.)

The levy was never meant to be a gap-closing revenue measure. Instead, County Executive Isiah Leggett sought the tax to reduce waste. Could a nickel be enough to get consumers to give up disposable bags? Leggett said he sees shoppers toting their own reusable bags into stores, he said. Stand outside a deli, and you’ll see a number of people who try to balance a sandwich and soda as they leave with their to-go orders. Still, 55 million means every man woman and child in the county used a plastic bag at least once a week for the year. Change might be slow in coming.

“We do see some improvements on streets and in streams,” Leggett said, though he said the county needed to conduct more study to quantify the effect the tax has had on the environment and on shoppers and retailers.

The county executive offered on-the-spot analysis: The habits of out-of-towners are behind the unexpected windfall. If that’s true, the county faces a conundrum. The point is to reduce the number of bags that enter the “waste stream.” Will the county need to post signs at the county line? “Welcome to Montgomery County. We hope you brought reusable bags.”

Many consumers seem to have adopted the concept of bringing reusable bags to grocery stores. To department stores, not so much. Some County Council members have discussed that the bag tax needs to be tweaked, and this is a good place to start. It seems reasonable to apply the tax at a Subway or a Safeway, and it seems reasonable to excuse J.C. Penney or Lord & Taylor.

Besides, when was the last time a stream cleanup crew pulled a Nordstrom bag from the muck?