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Making the case for statewide plastic bag tax - February 28, 2012

Would you remember to bring reusable bags more often if you would be charged an extra tax at the checkout counter for opting to use disposable bags available at the store?

Maryland state legislature has made several attempts to pass a statewide bag bill that will impose an optional five-cent fee on customers who choose to use single-use plastic bags instead of reusable bags. The Community Cleanup and Greening Act has been introduced in the Senate last week as SB 511 and will be introduced in the House later this week.

Fifty percent of the money raised through this tax will be used to purchase and distribute hundreds of thousands of free reusable bags to those in need. Whatever is left after that will be split between the Chesapeake Bay Trust for grants to nonprofit restoration organizations and counties, to use for stormwater, WIP (Watershed Implementation Plan), and other water quality improvement projects.

This will also create job opportunities in green job training and project management and implementation by giving counties valuable funds.

The environmental damage caused by plastic bags is enormous. Did you know that plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse after cigarette butts? It is estimated that 100,000 marine mammals die every year after mistaking plastic bags for food. Plastic bags are ingested by turtles, seals, sea lions and whales that confuse them for jellyfish. When turtles ingest plastic bags they suffocate. Whales are unable to digest plastic and eventually starve to death and seals and sea lions get tangled and are eventually strangled by plastic bags. After the animals die their carcasses decompose, and the plastic is free to roam and kill again. In addition to the dire environmental impacts, these unnecessary plastic bags float around and create an eyesore for visitors and residents alike.

Discarded bags cost taxpayers for disposal and cleanup. In 2010, the State Highway Administration spent $7.7 million, mostly in staff time, cleaning up 6.4 million pounds of roadside litter. The SHA's maintenance budget has been cut by $20 million in the past two years, reducing service. The average Maryland consumer pays up to $37.50 in higher food and retail prices each year to cover these hidden bag costs. Reusable bags cost $1-$3 and last 2 years or longer -- much more cost-efficient for consumers.

We can reduce plastic bag use with a simple alternative: reusable bags. Visit www.trashfree maryland.org for more information. If you're interested in helping to cleanup our Coastal Bays, please contact the Coastal Bays Program at mcbp@mdcoastalbays.org or visit www.mdcoastalbays.org.

Taylor is an intern for Maryland Coastal Bays Program.


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