2012 Poised as Big Year for Plastic Bag Taxes, Bans

As 2012 dawned, Montgomery County, Md., joined its neighbor the District of Columbia in taxing the use of disposable grocery bags. The Washington Times explained that effective New Year’s Day, shoppers in the state who use a store-provided bag must pay five cents for the privilege. The District has had a similar law in place since January 2010.

The new law is designed not as a revenue measure but to promote sound environmental practices. The county anticipates receiving $1 million in bag taxes annually, the Washington Post said, and that money will be deposited into the county’s Water Quality Protection Charge fund where it will be used for litter and pollution remediation.

Washington, D.C.’s experience with a plastic bag ban showed the win-win aspect of enacting such laws. The city expected its law to raise $3.5 million for environmental remediation, and fell short of financial projections by $1.5 million, the Washington Post said. But in falling short of predicted revenues, the measure achieved an arguably more important goal, dramatically reducing plastic bag use. From 2009 to 2010, the city’s plastic bag count dropped from 270 million to 55 million.

Far from the nation’s capital, other jurisdictions have been enacting plastic bag taxes and even outright bans in recent years. In 2011, there was a flurry of legislative activity on bag bans and taxes as the new year began. With all the bills that stalled in legislatures last year, 2012 could be a big year in the life of the plastic bag as the bills are revived or reworked. Plastic Bag Laws keeps a running tally of all bag laws proposed and enacted by states and municipalities. It also shares the experiences of jurisdictions with bag laws, including citizen support and opposition, retailer experience, environmental consequences, and litigation.

Treehugger listed some of the cities that had banned plastic checkout bags as of 2010. These include San Francisco, Malibu, Palo Alto and Fairfax, Cal.; Westport, Conn.; Bethel, Alaska; and the Outer Banks, N.C.

Bag bans came to Colorado in a somewhat surprising manner. Plastic Bag Laws recounts a contest between Telluride and Aspen to see which jurisdiction’s residents could bring more reusable bags with them to shop. Telluride won and then raced to beat out its larger competitor at enacting a plastic bag ban. Now both Telluride and Aspen have enacted bans, along with Basalt. Telluride’s ban took effect last year while the other bans will not be enforced until spring 2012.

Not all of the environmentalists’ efforts pay off when it comes to opposing the use of plastic bags. Numerous state legislatures have considered statewide action but to date none has enacted either a ban or tax on plastic bags, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported in February. Since then, more state legislation was considered and shot down.

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