DC’s 5¢ bag fee is now 2 years old, and it has unquestionably achieved its goals. Shoppers have overwhelmingly switched to using reusable bags to carry their purchases, and fewer plastic bags are polluting the Anacostia River. But we all live downstream of somewhere, and bags and other trash continue to come in from Maryland and tarnish DC’s waters.
Montgomery County enacted its own bag fee last year, and Prince George’s County wants to follow suit but needs state permission. Many in both counties recognize that disposable bags are outdated and need to be phased out to help our communities combat litter.
However, trash doesn’t know political boundaries. It is now time for Maryland to step up and pass a statewide bag fee. The General Assembly has considered the proposal twice before without success, but many good bills take a few tries before they pass.
While the political climate remains challenging, the tide is turning. Chestertown, on the Eastern Shore, banned plastic bags outright. Howard County and Baltimore City have also expressed interest in a bag fee.
As these ordinances vary from county to county, stores with multiple locations will have more difficulty complying with all the laws, and consumers will need to remember which jurisdiction they are shopping in. A consistent statewide approach will do the most to reduce litter and be better for both retailers and shoppers.
The Community Cleanup and Greening Act, sponsored this year by Senator Brian Frosh (District 16-Montgomery County) and Delegate Mary Washington (District 43-Baltimore City), will copy the Montgomery County law and enact a 5¢ fee on plastic and paper checkout bags at all stores throughout the state.
Retailers will keep 1¢ of the fee. The Department of Human Resources will use fee funds to purchase and distribute free reusable bags to all low-income residents via community service centers and faith and social service institutions. The state will split the remaining proceeds between the counties, to pay for water quality improvement projects, and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which will give out grants to restore the environment.
Baltimore, in particular, will benefit from a serious approach to litter reduction. As with the Anacostia River, the EPA has declared the Baltimore Harbor “impaired” by trash under the Clean Water Act, and the city faces steep fines for violations. The city currently spends upwards of $10 million every year to clean up litter; taxpayers are already paying a lot, and that burden will only continue to increase.
"Litter brings down the quality of life for residents,” said Halle Van der Gaag, Executive Director of Blue Water Baltimore. “It is not only visually ugly but contaminates our waterways. Preventing it in the first place is more sustainable in the long-term.”
The Senate’s Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee is holding a public hearing on SB511 on Tuesday at 1 pm; the House’s Economic Matters Committee will hear HB1247 on Wednesday, March 14.
To show your support for the measure, send an email or find your representatives’ phone numbers through the Surfrider Foundation. You can also participate in a Lobby Night next Monday, March 5, to go to Annapolis and meet with your legislators in person. RSVP by visiting www.mdlobbynight.com.
For more information about bag fees and the campaign supporting this legislation, visit the Trash Free Maryland Alliance.