Three Montgomery County councilmembers on Tuesday are expected to introduce a bill that would limit the bag tax to grocery stores and other food stores.
The move would run counter to the recommendation of the county’s Department of Environmental Protection, which in a lively Council Committee meeting in March argued to maintain the bag tax at all stores that offer plastic or paper bags.
The councilmembers behind the proposed change, Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac), Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) and Nancy Floreen (D-At large), have questioned whether a shopper at a Nordstrom’s or Home Depot should be expected to carry a reuseable bag into those stores for non-food products.
The bag tax, a 5-cent fee imposed with each plastic or paper bag, was instituted in January 2012 as a way to change shopping behaviors and cut into the amount of plastic bag litter in streams.
Director of Environmental Protection Bob Hoyt said in March that stream clean-up groups have told him they’ve seen a 25 percent decrease in the number of bags they found over the past year and Safeway managers have said they’ve seen a 50 to 60 percent reduction in plastic bag usage at their stores.
The county collected more than double the amount of revenue they expected from the bag tax in its first year, which has caused councilmembers such as Berliner to question how effective it’s been. Rice pointed out the burden many retail business owners told him they were having with charging the fee and protecting their goods from shoplifting via the reuseable bags.
Rice even said reuseable bags lead to racial profiling. Rice, who is black, said he has been asked if he was shoplifting while using a reuseable bag.
The bill would limit the 5-cent fee to carryout bags used at food stores, defined as a store where food consists of more than 2 percent of gross sales by dollar value. It would continue to cover bags used for non-food items purchased at food stores. The bill would also repeal the tax on plastic food take-out bags.
In the March Committee meeting, Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At large) said he thought the bag tax should still apply to Target, a department store that offers a large grocery section.
Expect the county and environmental groups to oppose the bill.
“There’s no difference in a plastic bag in a stream that came from a grocery store versus one from a Home Depot,” Hoyt said in the March Committee meeting. “And now to say a year later, a year later, that nobody will ever walk into a Home Depot with their own carry-out bags, I don’t understand that.”
A public hearing is scheduled for June 18 at 7:30 p.m.