Friday, April 1, 2011

Is Nancy Holding the Bag?

Recently Council Member Nancy Floreen has been all over town spouting off her opposition to a Bag fee (some say tax) which has been proposed in Montgomery County.  The fee -- which as I understand it -- would apply to both paper and plastic bags would be imposed at the charge of five cents per bag.  This bill was proposed by County Executive Ike Leggett.  A similar fee has been in place in the District of Columbia for the last year.  It has been so successful that it has raised less money than was proposed, as the residents of DC changed their behavior and started bringing their own bags to shops.  The public is not speaking out against this, so what's Nancy's problem here?

The Alice Ferguson Foundation announced recently that the Anacostia had 66% fewer bags when the river was cleaned up this year as opposed to the previous clean-up.  (Even though Nancy claimed that this is not quantifiable -- but less trash is a measurable result.)  Retailers have noted that their costs have decreased as they are buying fewer bags of all kinds.  Street crews have indicated that there are fewer loose bags to pick up.  The Bill is supported by environmental groups and river keeper groups.  Internationally, groups report oceans with swirling morasses of thousands of bags intermeshed with tons of trash.   There seems to be a real problem with excess bags.

Not only did Nancy write an Op-ed in the Washington Post, she also appeared on WAMU speaking about this topic -- a link about this and the text of her op-ed appeared on her periodic emailed news column this week.  Council Member Floreen noted that the "store-made" fabric bags might be derived from petroleum products and are not recyclable.  Even the ones she ordered for promotional give-aways during her recent campaign came from China and are not made of recycled materials.  She further indicated that the bags would need to be washed before they should be used again for food products to avoid food contamination with subsequent grocery use (and who wants to wash grocery bags?)  As was pointed out in the discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi show on WAMU, the fabric bags are reusable.  And -- as most environmentalists know the mantra goes -- reduce, renew, reuse, recyle! 

She indicates that the discussions of this tax are distractions in this difficult budget year -- and the tax would not really make such a difference.  Drawing a parallel to the "carry-in, carry-out" failure of trash management for the county parks, she indicated this was such a feel-good exercise.  She also discussed in her op-ed the re-use of her plastic bags when she walks her dog.  As Anne Ambler of the Sierra Club pointed out in a response letter to the Editor published in the Post -- retail bags are not the only options -- newspaper bags work equally as well!  I like the community options I have as my HOA provides disintegrating recycled bags and disposal sites along our public walk ways.  As the bags are labeled -- here today -- gone next year! 

Montgomery County State District 18 Delegate Al Carr called in to the radio show as he is the sponsor -- for the second year of a state level plastic bag bill -- and spoke about the importance of this option.  He reiterated the success the District of Columbia has shown in changing public behaviors in a short time.  The bill has not yet passed in this session which ends soon, so next year may see it have a better chance at the state level.  Blogger Keith Berner also called Nancy to task on her "facts" which he believed were questionable.  He has since blogged about this topic as well. 

Now my two cents -- and I'd love to hear yours as well -- I support the bag fee. I have a car back seat loaded with store bought fabric bags used not only for groceries, but also myriad purposes.  I carry a fold up fabric bag in my purse. I carry out small purchases in my purse or pockets when possible.  When I walk my dog I see plastic bags caught in trees, lodged in storm drains, blowing across swimming pools, in short, littering my little piece of the world.  I know we can and should do better as a community; I do not litter, but we can stop those who do.  The Europeans have been using personal shopping bags for years.  It seems quite routine to them.  Paying for a bag might easily be enough of a deterrent -- and it should be tried.   I strongly believe a bag bill will, in the long term, save us money.  We would have less mess to clean up in our parks and public highways and by ways.  Our streams and rivers would be cleaner as would the oceans they flow into.  For me there is no down side here -- so I say loudly and clearly -- pass the bag fees!

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