3-29-11: Paper or Plastic–for a Small Fee?
Paper, plastic, or WYPR tote? It’s a question that lawmakers are pondering this session–currently, there are at least 3 bills before the Maryland General Assembly dealing with shopping bags. The most far-reaching is sponsored by Delegate Al Carr, Democrat of Montgomery County, in the House, and Democrat Jamie Raskin, also of Montgomery County, in the Senate. It would require shoppers in Maryland to pay five cents for each disposable bag they take from stores–both paper and plastic. 1 or 2 cents would go to the store (2 if they have a plastic bag recycling system in place), and the remainder would go to the state, with much of that revenue targeted for the Chesapeake Bay Trust.
If the measure passes, Maryland would become the first state to adopt a disposable bag fee.
There are economic objections to the bill: Jeff Zellmer, Vice-President, Government and Community Affairs, for the Maryland Retailers Association, opposes this bill. He says it will be hard for some consumers to bear the extra cost.
“I mean, it’s a pass through, we’re a conduit. But we don’t like any ill effects on our customers. It brings harsh things. A nickel means a lot to them. When you’re on food stamps, you’re getting 20 bags, that’s a dollar—that’s a meal some places.”
The company Advance Polybag, Inc., which has a manufacturing plant in Elkridge, in Howard County, says the bill would endanger the jobs of 140 people who work at the plant. Advanded Polybag released a statement last week that said as much:
It will tax people at a time when the state is already struggling with 220,000 unemployed. No other state has implemented such a policy, and in fact, states that have tried, have rejected such proposals – instead opting to promote recycling efforts – a more effective solution to litter.
Meanwhile, Senator Joan Carter Conway, Democrat of Baltimore, who chairs the Senate panel that oversees environmental issues, told The Washington Post that in this economy, “it’s the wrong time” to pass such a bill.
The bill is currently caught up in committee, and may not pass this session. However, the issue may be decided on a local level–a separate bill currently before the legislature would enable Prince George’s County to impose a 5 cent fee, and Montgomery County is also pursuing its own law. Meanwhile, there’s another bill in the legislature, sponsored by Stephen Lafferty of Baltimore County, that would require certain retailers to establish in-store recycling programs for carry-out plastic bags.
Sheilah speaks about these options with Delegate Al Carr, who’s sponsoring the nickel-a-bag bill.