Montgomery County Relaunches Bag Tax Campaign As Fees Collections Remain High

Stats show the number of plastic bags used by retailers has remained relatively constant despite 5-cent tax

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Council member Craig Rice speaks as County Executive Ike Leggett looks on during an event Saturday to relaunch the county's efforts at discouraging the use of plastic and paper bags while shopping

Montgomery County

Montgomery County leaders on Saturday gathered to remind people to use reusable bags while shopping as fees collected from its more than four-year-old bag tax have remained relatively constant.

The 5-cent bag tax, which went into effect January 2012, was supposed to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags instead of plastic bags provided by retailers that tend to end up in creeks and waterways, polluting those places and hurting the environment. The tax also applies to paper bags provided by retailers.

But since the law went into effect, the amount of money the county has collected from transactions in which a customer does use a plastic or paper bag hasn’t shown a significant decrease.

The county collected $189,025 in bag tax fees in April 2016, about $7,000 more than in April 2015 and about $9,000 more than in April 2014, both months in which a comparable amount of registered retailers were participating in the program. According to the law, the county collects 4 cents of the fee while the retailer retains 1 cent of the fee.

Since the law went into effect in January 2012 through April, the county has collected a total of $10,439,854 in bag tax fees, representing a grand total of 260,972,410 plastic or paper bags provided by retailers.

Proceeds from the fees must go toward programs to combat litter and control water pollution in the county.

On Saturday, County Executive Ike Leggett, County Council member Craig Rice and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Director Lisa Feldt held a press conference in Silver Spring that included a clean-up of a nearby stream and reusable bag giveaway at a nearby grocery store.

“This is a straightforward concept: If residents are using reusable bags, the disposable bags are not going to go into our parks, playgrounds and streams,” Leggett said. “This renewed effort will give additional support to our businesses who are implementing the bag law and ensure that every resident who wants or needs a free bag will be able to get one.”

The revamped public outreach campaign will include a new-look webpage, poster campaign, advertisements on county buses and bus shelters and more free reusable bag distributions. Free reusable bags will also be available at all county library locations and the Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg.

In 2013, council member Roger Berliner introduced a bill that would have reduced the scope of the bag tax only to food stores such as grocery stores, and not other types of major retailers including department and hardware stores. Leggett was opposed to the bill and Berliner eventually tabled it.

Statistics provided Monday morning by DEP show the amount of retailers registered to participate in the bag tax program has steadily increased from 548 in January 2012 to 1,296 in April, the last month for which bag tax data was available.

The statistics show the most money in bag tax fees is typically collected in December during the height of the holiday shopping season. In December 2015, the county collected $267,275 in bag tax fees from 1,274 registered retailers. In December 2014, the county collected $264,976 in fees from 1,224 registered retailers.

Volunteers help clean trash from the Stewart/April Lane Tributary on Saturday, via Montgomery County

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