The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County was proud of the County Council for its leadership in passing the comprehensive bag tax that took effect on Jan. 1, 2012. This act recognized that local governments can play an important role in protecting and managing our natural resources — including streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
Consequently, the league was quite disappointed to learn of the submission of Bill 10-13 (titled “Taxation-Excise Tax Disposable Carryout Bags-Scope”), which would dramatically narrow the scope of the bag tax and reverse some benefits of the original bill. We wish to share with The Gazette and county residents some of our concerns.
We hope that the County Council will recognize that taking such action would be extremely premature. The bag tax has been in effect for about 18 months — and without much publicity. County residents are still becoming accustomed to its requirements and may need more time and publicity to achieve more thorough compliance and to become comfortable bringing their own reusable (and washable) bags whenever and wherever they shop, while accepting such simple routines as laundering reusable bags.
Narrowing the scope will conflict with and contradict the farsighted Climate Action Plan approved by the County Council — you see, plastic is a petroleum product that in both its production and destruction emits carbon dioxide (increasing our carbon footprint) and other air toxins. Narrowing the scope could also result in more costs for cleaning up trash, maintaining facilities and possibly requiring additional staff to do so.
Despite rumors to the contrary, visual and physical pollution of county paths, roads, byways and streams — particularly with plastic bags — continues. Some League members have even seen them entangled in the tops of county trees. These bags also clog our stormwater management infrastructure, are costly to remove, and are hazardous to our wildlife.
In addition, the 5-cent charge serves as a reminder of the negative environmental and economic impacts plastic bags have — thus inculcating an awareness of these problems (albeit at a far lower cost than in Ireland, where in 2009 the charge was 35 cents). Maybe we should consider charging more.
We ask the county to join the league in supporting and retaining this sensible and important control over the pollution of our resources and in promoting more policies that protect our resources by reducing pollution.
The league has long supported the County Council’s “reduce-reuse-recycle” hierarchy and hopes that the County will continue to promote and strengthen these efforts — rather than weaken them — which is what Bill 10-13 will do.
Linna Barnes, Chevy Chase
The writer is the president of the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County.