Was Montgomery County's Bag Tax a Success?

ROCKVILLE, Md. — The idea was to help save the environment, but Montgomery County’s 5-cent bag tax — officials preferred to call it a “fee” when it was introduced — hasn’t stopped residents from shelling out money for a plastic bag at grocery stores.

Montgomery County’s CountyStat analysis shows that the number of disposable bags sold in the county actually went up in fiscal 2015 — to nearly 62,000 bags, from just under 60,000 bags during the same period in 2013.

The Washington Post reports part of the growth could be due to an uptick in economic activity overall, and an increase in the number of retail stores in the county. But the same analysis shows that most of the bags are sold in grocery stores — the point of sale where county officials hoped to change behavior by getting residents to use their own cloth or reusable bags.

Pharmacies and department stores have seen a reduction in bag sales.

Even though plastic bags are going out the door, fewer bags are showing up in area waterways. The Post reports that traps designed to sift trash from streambeds in the county showed a steep drop, from 856 in 2011 to 281 in the first half of 2016.

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