As she checked off a list as she watched shoppers emerge from the stood outside of the Free State Shopping Center’s Giant food store, Kay Kane of Bowie said she occasionally had reasons to smile.
“When someone came out with reusable bags, I wanted to run up and cheer them on,” she said with a laugh. “I wanted to say, ‘Thank you.’”
Kane was monitoring Sunday how many people were using plastic bags or reusable bags as part of a survey sponsored by the Prince George’s County chapter of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club is an environmental group that focuses on grassroots efforts like the disposable bag survey.
Kane said she saw a lot of people using plastic bags, but couldn’t give out any numbers until her data was verified with the Sierra Club.
Kane is the chairwoman of Bowie’s Green Team, a city-sanctioned group that advocates for environmentally friendly issues like limiting plastic bag use. This is the second year of the Sierra Club’s survey, but the first year that Green Team members have participated and counted disposable bag users, Kane said. The major issue is plastic bags, which don’t decompose and can end up in the ocean and damaging the environment, she said.
She said she hopes the survey helps people understand how often plastic bags are used.
“The numbers will help open eyes,” Kane said. “People don’t realize how much [plastic] others use.”
Results from the 2014 survey haven’t been released as of press time as other volunteers were still counting stores, but in the 2012 survey found that out of a sample size of an hour, about 8,000 shoppers were counted in an hour by volunteers at 51 county grocery stores and 7 percent of them used reusable bags, said Sierra Club president Martha Ainsworth of Bowie.
For the 2014 survey, volunteers will visit grocery stores in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, Ainsworth said. They also will count how many shoppers use a mix of reusable and disposable bags, she said.
This will give a comparison between a county with a bag fee — Montgomery, which charges five cents per bag — compared to Prince George’s, which does not have a bag fee, she said.
“In Montgomery County you see people leave without even bagging their groceries,” Ainsworth said. Ainsworth’s said she hopes her efforts influence the current debate on disposable bag use. There is currently legislation before the Maryland General Assembly that will allow Prince George’s County the ability to set a bag fee of up to five cents on disposable bags, Ainsworth said. That price is an incentive to move people away from those bags to environmentally friendly reusable bags, she said.
The bag fee legislation, which has not made it past the Prince George’s County General Assembly delegation the last three years, will have to pass the delegation before being voted on by the General Assembly. If passed by the assembly, the Prince George’s County Council can vote to implement a fee of up to five cents.
Bowie resident Spencer Nelson, who was shopping at the Giant food store, said she thought people should limit the amount of plastic bags they used, but added the five cents bag fee was a “little steep.”
“If you are going to charge us, make it a penny,” Nelson said as she glanced at the bags in her trunk. “Five cents per bag is a lot.”
Kelly Pierce, Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce executive director, said the chamber plans to discuss the upcoming bag fee legislation, but hasn’t decided to take an official position at this time. If the bag fee legislation does gain traction at with the General Assembly, Pierce said the chamber will likely take a stance.