Maryland's Montgomery County, with a population of nearly 1 million people, has joined neighboring Washington, D.C., to become the second U.S. community to tax plastic and paper carryout bags.
The 5-cent tax on carryout bags passed May 3. It will go into effect Jan. 1 and apply to all retailers. The Washington tax, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2010, only applies to retailers that sell food in that city of nearly 600,000 people.
Like Washington, Montgomery County will use collected funds for river, stream and litter cleanup.
Roughly 83 million carryout bags are currently handed out annually in the county, according to officials there. They calculate that the tax will bring in just $562,000 in fiscal 2012 (which begins July 1, 2011) because of initial startup and collection costs, a projected 50 percent drop in bag use and because the tax will only be in effect for six months of that time frame.
In Washington, the use of carryout bags dropped 80 percent after the tax was enacted, and the city collected $2.1 million in bag taxes in 2010 compared with the $4 million it had estimated.
Montgomery County officials said revenues from the bag tax are likely to rise to just over $1 million in fiscal 2013, the first full year of the tax. They estimate revenues will fall to about $423,000 by fiscal 2017. They expect overall bag use to be 85 percent lower than the base period by then.
The Montgomery County bill exempts bags handed out for pharmaceutical prescriptions, newspaper and dry cleaning bags, bags initially intended for garbage or yard waste, and bags handed out at seasonal events such as outdoor farm markets, street fairs and yard sales.
Also, restaurants would still be permitted to give customers paper bags to take home prepared or leftover foods and drinks.
County Executive Isiah Leggett, who supported the bill, is expected to sign it shortly.
It's unfortunate that the County Council would take this approach, said Shari Jackson, Progressive Bag Affiliates director, in a statement issued by the American Chemistry Council. Instead of entertaining recycling partnerships and programs, the County Council chose a policy that [could] also have the unintended effect of dismantling at-store recycling infrastructure.
ACC is urging the county to take a comprehensive approach to reduce litter.
What we've found to be an effective option are programs that make it easier for people to recycle their bags, Jackson wrote in a letter to the Montgomery County Council. You cannot ban or tax your way toward environmental stewardship, and these policy approaches have unintended consequences that adversely affect not only consumers, but ultimately the environment.
There are 21 plastic bag bans in the U.S. Oregon is considering a ban on plastic and paper carryout bags that would be the first statewide ban of its type in the U.S.