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Montgomery County’s sensible plastic bag tax

By Editorial,

ONE OF THE disappointments of this year’s Maryland General Assembly session was the inability of proponents of a tax on plastic bags to move the measure out of committee. So it was gratifying to see lawmakers in Montgomery County not hesitate to put the fee in place for the state’s largest jurisdiction. Let’s hope that when the next legislative session rolls around, state lawmakers will show similar resolve in adopting a worthwhile initiative that would go a long way toward helping to clean up Maryland’s streets and waterways.

The Montgomery County Council, at the behest of County Executive Isiah Leggett, voted 8 to 1 Tuesday to impose a five-cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags. The measure, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, is projected to raise about $1 million a year that will go to the county’s water quality improvement fund. The real aim of the measure, though, is not to raise money but to get people to change their habits and use fewer plastic bags.

Any trepidation about the public’s ability to adapt should be assuaged by the experience of the District, which has been taxing disposable bags since January 2010. Residents have been unfazed, making reusable bags part of their shopping routine or realizing they don’t really need a plastic bag to carry that gallon of milk. Likewise, businesses have reported no problems and have learned that there is an economic benefit to not having to provide “free” bags. City officials say supermarkets estimate there’s been a 60 percent decrease in bag use.

Indeed, so easily did the new law go into effect in the District that its officials counseled Montgomery lawmakers to go a bit further with their bill. For example, Montgomery’s measure will apply to all retail establishments, not just those that sell food, as is the case in the District. In applauding the council’s move, Mr. Leggett characterized the bag tax as a “tangible way people can say, ‘Look, I’m doing my part.’ ” Now it’s time for the rest of the state to do its part.

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