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Montgomery County considers banning plastic bags

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Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson,Montgomery County

The Montgomery County Council is considering an outright ban on plastic bags.

Council members are scheduled to hear a review of the county's bag tax, which was implemented in January 2012. As part of that review, a council committee will discuss whether to ban plastic bags, ban both plastic and paper bags, increase the tax or leave it alone.

The bag tax brought in about $2.3 million last year for 57.6 million bags, according to the Department of Finance.

The benefit to banning plastic bags, according to council staff, would be to effectively force shoppers to use reusable bags, and it would help clean up the county's streams. Council staff said while a ban has worked in some jurisdictions, the current bag tax seems to be resulting in fewer people using plastic bags.

Council staff is recommending the bag tax be left alone for now. Senior legislative analysts Keith Levchenko and Jacob Sesker warn it is too soon to tell whether the tax has been effective. Though revenue steadily increased from January to December, there's no conclusive evidence to show whether that means people are using many bags or if more stores are signing up with the county to track data. The number of registered retailers nearly doubled from January to February last year, from 548 to more than 1,000.

Sesker and Levchenko recommended revisiting the issue periodically to figure out whether anecdotal evidence of less bag use and cleaner streams is statistically significant.

Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large, said she would not support a ban and does not want to increase the tax. Instead, Floreen is looking into reducing the bag tax in some capacity -- allowing for stores that sell clothing and other nonfood-related items to be exempt from it, though no formal legislation has been drafted.

She said an outright ban would not be feasible for Montgomery County, especially since residents already seem unhappy with it.

"We'll see how that goes," she said. "That's the thing we get the biggest number of complaints about."

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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