Why I support the bag tax. Sort of.

This morning I read an article about a dog owner who opposed the Montgomery County bag tax. While the article was interesting, I mostly paid attention to the comments and wondered where I stood in this issue.

The post — which I see now was posted under the “events” section of our local “Patch” website — is now gone, but there were some interesting comments.

Backing up — if you don’t live in Montgomery County Maryland, you may be wondering what I am talking about. See, as of January 1, 2012 stores are required to charge 5¢ for each bag used to hold purchases. From what I read this morning (which may or may not be true) 4¢ of this is tax and 1¢ is retained by the business. Apparently the tax was created to curtail the problem with plastic bag litter and something to do with stormwater.

The initial article was by a woman who felt the law was a problem for dog owners because dog owners recycled plastic bags by using them to hold their dog’s waste. She also mentioned how she reused other plastic bags for lunches. Other comments agreed with the initial post while a few disagreed. Some agreed but for different reasons.

When I first heard about the tax I was concerned. Not because I worried I might have to pay 5¢ a bag at the grocery store but because I worried about the dog people who would need to buy their bags for their dog’s waste and because I was using plastic grocery bags to dispose of lumps from my kitty litter at the time. I also worried about the workers who traveled to Montgomery County on public transportation. What if they wanted to buy something at the store before going home? They would have to carry cumbersome reusable bags to avoid paying 5¢ a bag.

For me the tax is no big deal. I’ve sporadically used reusable bags for years. In fact I have a very old, waxy and sturdy bag from Giant Food that I probably bought in the early 1990’s — back when you were looked at strangely (and hostilely by some cashiers) when you presented your own bag, especially when you requested they not first put your groceries in plastic bags before putting them in the bags you brought.

I also spent some time in Ireland a couple of years ago where one is charged quite a bit more than 5¢ a bag. I think it was more like 45¢, but those Euros confuse me. Thinking about that trip, a  tax seems like nothing.

I like the tax for myself because it makes me remember ((Some of the people complaining about the law said that those of us who brought our own bags were doing to to “avoid the tax”. I like to think of it more as “to help save the environment”, but that’s just me…)) to bring those bags I’ve collected over several years to the stores. There is no need to add more plastic bags to landfills. We can figure out a different way to dispose of our cat’s waste and my husband will need to figure out a more creative way to transport his lunch to work.

I’m sorry about dog owners and their plastic bag issues, but the lack of free plastic bags has made me a tiny bit more respectful of the resource.

We’ve come a long way from me having to remove my gallons of milk from plastic bags in front of surly cashiers in the checkout line to cashier’s being surprised that the woman in line behind me didn’t have her own grocery bag. It is a small step, but I think it is a step in the right direction.

That said, if the law were repealed I’d be okay with that too. But I’d still bring my own bags.

(Please note that the tax includes all retail shops [with a few exceptions] which means if you go to any store in Montgomery County you’ll need to either have brought your own bag or pay the tax)

6 thoughts on “Why I support the bag tax. Sort of.

  1. It sounds like a good idea to me. I’ve been bringing my own bags to the grocery for a few years now, and I kick myself when I forget. One buys bags for trash—why not for dog droppings? And you can still buy the bag at the grocery store and reuse it—seems like it would cost more than 5 cents a bag if you bought bags especially for that purpose.

    It would take me quite awhile to get used to needing bags in other types of stores, though.

    Still, I always have one of those superthin nylon bags rolled up and stuffed in my purse.


    1. I think it would be cheaper to buy rolls of plastic bags for dog droppings, but I have not priced them. Produce bags are not part of the 5¢ tax, so I suppose dog owners could purchase a bunch of fruit and vegetables. DC also has a tax like this and I think they do charge for produce bags, but I might be wrong.


  2. Hmmm. Sounds a reasonable idea to me. I have my own supermarket bags, but (shock horror) consistently forget to take them in. Our supermarket tried to introduce a charge for plastic bags a while ago, which I was very supportive of, but then dropped it. I often tell other stores not to worry about a bag though – I have a big tote handbag, room for lots of shopping. And there are some bags that I just hate and refuse to carry – big cardboard (plasticised so you can’t recycle) bags that have absolutely no additional use one you get home. Over-packaging is also a major gripe of mine.


    1. Mali — I often forgot to take my bags in as well — I have several in the trunk of my car. I made it a point to remember as soon as I heard the bag tax was a reality. I trained myself to do so and now it has become a habit.

      I’m not sure what you mean about big cardboard plasticised bags though — we can recycle pretty much any paper here.

      I hate over-packaging too.


  3. We’re not charged for bags yet, but it’s frequently discussed in our state legislative sessions. I forget mine often, but I’m getting better. Do you watch Portlandia? It’s a favorite show of mine because I live nearby. Last week they had an episode about a shopper who’d forgotten his bags and the checker didn’t know what to do. It was such a surprise to the checker (played by Fred Armisen of Saturday Night Live) that he announced it over the loudspeaker.

    I think there should be a better answer for dog waste too. We have a shih-tsu, so it’s not a big problem for us, but I still feel a bit guilty about putting her waste in plastic.


    1. Hi Jan — thanks for commenting.

      Yes, I have seen Portlandia — only the first season though. I just now figured out it is on a channel we might get! I look forward to the shopping bag sketch.

      I feel bad about putting garbage in plastic bags. I tried to compost, but we tend to have a problem with rats in our area, so had to stop that. I remember my mom putting food waste in newspapers and tying it up with a string. It went into the garbage like that and then to the dump where it was able to decompose. Not anymore — we have to put our garbage in plastic.


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