- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Customers of Montgomery County retail stores will soon face a quandary familiar to D.C. shoppers: whether to tote reusable bags to carry purchases or to fork over a nickel per disposable bag.

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday voted 8-1 in favor of imposing a 5-cent bag tax to take effect next January. Council member Nancy Floreen, a Democrat, opposed the tax.

Montgomery County’s bag tax comes after the District implemented a similar measure in January 2010.

The tax is expected to raise revenue for the county and cut back on the amount of litter in the county, according to Neil H. Greenberger, the council’s legislative information officer.

The county’s Office of Management and Budget estimates close to 83 million disposable bags are distributed in the county annually and that after adjusting for expenses to run the tax program, the county could collect $562,000 in the first six months the tax is active.

The Associated Press reported in January that approximately $2 million was spent, a nickel at a time, on bags in the District in 2010.

Unlike the District’s bag tax, Montgomery County’s tax would apply to both plastic and paper bags. The 5-cent tax would be charged at a retail establishment to a customer at the point of sale, pickup or delivery, according to the legislation. Bags not included in the tax are: bags from pharmacies containing prescription drugs, bags intended to be used to hold garbage, bags provided at seasonal events such as a farmers’ market, bags used by restaurant customers to take away prepared or uneaten food, and bags used to wrap perishable items like fresh food or flowers.

Of the 5-cent tax, 1 cent per bag would be given to the retail store charging the tax to cover administrative costs.

Mrs. Floreen, who opposed the tax, said it was an unnecessary tactic to encourage the reduction of waste in an already environmentally conscious county.

“Residential property owners are recycling about 80 percent of products that could be recycled,” Mrs. Floreen said. “I think this is unnecessary.”

The additional costs of the tax to low income people was another concern of Mrs. Floreen‘s.

All revenue the county earns from the bag tax will be used to support water quality improvements in Montgomery County’s waterways, according to the budget office’s report.