In 2009, Delegate Al Carr of Montgomery County proposed a five-cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags. The legislation was introduced to support a simultaneous effort in Washington, DC, to reduce the amount of trash clogging the Anacostia River (a 2008 study of the river found that half of the trash in the tributaries were plastic bags). As 80% of the Anacostia watershed is in Maryland, the river’s trash problem cannot be solved by DC efforts alone.
While the legislation passed easily in DC in 2009, passage in Maryland is taking more time as budget deficits and election year politics intervene. Despite 37 House and 9 Senate co-sponsors, the retooled and renamed Clean the Streams (HB 1034) and Beautify the Bay (SB 602) Acts failed to get out of committee for a floor vote in March 2011. Like the bag fee in DC, the five-cent fee would apply to all single-use plastic and paper bags. Retailers would keep a portion of the fee, while the bulk of the revenue would be given to the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a chartered fund that grants money for restoration projects statewide.
Working together with Sierra Club, Anacostia Watershed Society, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, League of Conservation Voters, and many others in the Trash Free Maryland Alliance, the Surfrider Foundation’s DC Chapter collected more than 5,000 signatures from Maryland residents in support of the fee proposal. Public opinion surveys showed strong support for the proposal, with as many as two-thirds of respondents supporting the fee as a mechanism to restore the Bay.
In the meantime, Montgomery County has taken steps to pass its own five-cent fee, with the proceeds directed toward stormwater improvements in the DC suburb. At the time of publishing, the proposal passed the County Council Committee vote and is expected to take effect in January 2012. Baltimore has also rolled out a pilot bag ban affecting certain retailers. Results are still unknown.