Posts Tagged ‘bag bill’

Victory in Montgomery! For now

November 12th, 2013

Guest post by Julie Lawson, Trash Free Maryland Alliance

The Montgomery County Council has put a hold on a proposal to reduce the number of stores required to charge five cents for disposable plastic and paper checkout bags.

In a committee work session last Monday, Councilmember Roger Berliner said his amendment aimed to “strengthen” the law by exempting some businesses from it. The bill passed 2-1, with sponsors seeking to rush it to a full Council vote before the end of the year. On Wednesday, following a phone conversation withCounty Executive Ike LeggettBerliner changed course, agreeing to wait on further action until the County can conduct surveys and collect more data. He asked the Department of Environmental Protection to provide a report by Summer 2014.

The current law, in effect since January 2012, requires all retailers in the county to charge a five-cent fee for disposable plastic and paper checkout bags. Bill 10-13would carve out retailers that primarily sell goods other than food, as well as plastic bags used for takeout restaurant food. Only stores that earn more than 2% of their gross sales from food would continue to collect the fee.

At a hearing in June, environmental and citizen groups, and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, largely opposed the proposed amendment, while small chambers endorsed it. Opponents argued that the bill language was unclear and that non-food store bags also pollute county streams and neighborhoods. One question was the definition of “food.” Under the state sales tax code, “food” does not include alcohol, soda, or candy. This definition would exempt liquor stores and potentially many convenience stores from the law.

The lack of clarity on what stores would be exempted also troubled advocates–retailers do not currently report the breakdown of their sales to the County government, and even the Council attorney could only offer his best guess on whether stores like Target and CVS would be exempted. Advocates argued that the Council needed to provide a detailed list of the stores that would be exempted before taking action.

Hearing these comments, the committee did amend the bill to include alcohol in the definition of “food,” but delayed making a decision on soft drinks and candy.

In addition to collecting bag sales and public opinion data, the delay also affords DEP the opportunity to conduct more outreach, including distributing free reusable bags in low-income communities and educating county residents and businesses on the positive aspects of the law–significantly fewer bags being littered, revenue for pollution prevention projects, and cost savings for retailers.

Montgomery County Council Considers Changing a Policy that Works

May 22nd, 2013

photo (5)As the 25th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup wraps up, we reflect back on the last couple of months of citizen action against litter. 14,238 volunteers at 616 sites, removed 574,000 lbs of trash including 193,800 beverage containers and 27,200 plastic bags from our Watershed in April. I attended several cleanup sites in Virginia this year, excited to check out places in my Watershed that I had not been to before. As I was sorting my beverage containers and collecting candy bar wrappers, I was also paying close attention to the plastic bags.

You see, over on the Maryland side of the river we have a five cent disposable bag fee in Montgomery County that works to tackle one of our common sources of litter- single use plastic bags. However, County Council Members have proposed an amendment to this policy that would exempt restaurants and all businesses where food is less than 2% of the gross sales. This proposed amendment to the bag fee policy will be difficult to enforce and has the potential to exempt some critical businesses. As I was tracking the plastic bags in Virginia, I found, just as I suspected, that all types of plastic bags are littered- department stores, electronics store, hardware store, and boutiques. We must prevent this amendment from moving forward so we do not reverse the County’s efforts to end litter.

photo (4)

The hearing on this amendment is June 18th. I urge you to please send letters and make phone calls to Council Members as well as send out Action Alerts to your friends, family, members, and volunteers. Every voice will be needed to prevent the amendment from passing. If you have any photos of littered plastic bags where you can clearly see the name of the business- please send to [email protected]. Focus on stores that might be exempt with the amendment such as hardware stores, gas stations, department stores, dollar stores.

To help you craft your message to Council Members here are a few talking points:

  • Thank you for passing the bag fee legislation, ensuring that Montgomery County
    continues to lead the way for environmental change.
  • The bag fee has been very helpful in reminding me to bring reusable bags to all the stores that I shop in, including department stores (hardware store, boutiques, etc).
  • Even when I forget my bag and I chose to buy one, I don’t mind because I know that the money will go to support environmental projects.
  • Many of the department stores I shop in even sell reusable bags, showing that they support their customers changing their behavior and using less disposable bags.
  • I’m also thrilled to see my friends and neighbors refusing the unnecessary disposable bags at the store. (this is a great place to share personal anecdotes from your shopping experiences)
  • And the intent of the legislation, to reduce litter, has been successful. We are seeing less plastic bags in our communities and waterways.