Paper, plastic bag tax hits retail stores Jan. 1

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Julia Greenzaid

The money raised from the bag tax will go to the Water Quality Protection Fund.

By By Julia Greenzaid, Fact Checker

 Starting Jan. 1, all Montgomery County retailers, not just grocery stores, will charge customers five cents for each paper or plastic bag used to encourage the use of reusable shopping bags and to reduce litter in streams and public areas.

Retailers will use one penny of each nickel earned through the bag tax to cover administrative costs, while the other four cents will be donated to the Water Quality Protection Fund (WQPF), a national branch of the Environmental Protection Agency that aids storm water management, watershed restoration and litter cleanup.

“Essentially what we are doing is cutting down the source of pollution,” said Ansu John, public education and outreach specialist for the Montgomery County Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP). “Plastic bags end up primarily as microscopic particles that never break down and that persist in the environment for hundreds of thousands of years.”

According to John, plastic bags are one of the top four pollutants found in county streams and embankments that retain stormwater runoff.

“The main purpose of the law is behavior change as opposed to raising revenue,” John said.

While many believe that the law will positively influence residents’ behavior, Montgomery County councilwoman Nancy Floreen feels differently.

“It’s just another tax,” Floreen said. “It’s not enough to change behavior. If it was 50 cents people would really change their way.”

To encourage the use of reusable bags and to get customers prepared for the new law, grocery stores such as Giant have created special deals. According to Jeffrey Cox, a full-time cashier at the Falls Road Giant, customers can receive a free reusable bag with each 99-cent purchase of one.

Senior Hal Zeitlin, president of the environmental club Churchill Green, supports the bag tax because he believes that the overproduction of plastic bags is harmful to the environment.

“Why produce millions of plastic bags that can and most likely will be thrown out or used as pollutants when you can use one bag again and again?” Zeitlin said. “Not only for the environment, but in life, waste is never good.”