Montgomery County is no longer considering a temporary suspension of its single-use bag fee during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic many state and local governments were passing into law or beginning to implement a variety of bans and fees on single-use bags. Now many bans and fees across the country are being delayed, suspended, or not approved due to concerns that reusable bags may aid community transmission of COVID-19. Maryland’s own bag ban legislation stalled in the hectic final days of the 2020 Session. For more information on Maryland’s proposal and other state actions on bag bans and fees listen to the most recent edition of the Conduit Street Podcast: Revisiting the Bag Ban… and Beyond
In Montgomery County, where a fee has been in place since 2012, Councilmember Will Jawando recently put forth a bill that would have suspended the county’s five cent fee during the COVID-19 crisis. Several retailers in the county were already prohibiting customers from using reusable bags in their establishments in an effort to protect shoppers and employees. Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles recommends that customers using reusable bags pack their own groceries and then wash the bags after each use.
After consultation with environmental advocates and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Councilmember Jawando withdrew the proposed fee suspension. In a press release, the Councilmember announced that the county’s Department of Environmental Protection will work on a campaign to remind residents to wash their reusable bags.
Revenue from the five cent fee goes to the county’s Water Quality Protection Charge fund that finances litter cleanup and water quality efforts. Some environmental advocates believe the bag fee has been very successful in encouraging residents to make the switch to reusable bags and reducing the amount of litter. They had concerns about suspending the policy, even if it would only have lasted until the pandemic subsided.
From coverage in Bethesda Magazine:
Amy Maron, the zero waste leader of the Sierra Club, said in the release that grocery store workers are on the front lines of the emergency and should be protected.
“Calling on customers to bag their own items reduces contact with store workers while preserving the bag fee, an important tool in efforts to reduce plastic pollution,” she said
Previous coverage on Conduit Street: Bag Ban Bill Passes First Committee With Amendments
Conduit Street Podcast: Revisiting the Bag Ban… and Beyond