Md. General Assembly Approves Gas Tax Hike
Plastic Bag Fee Doesn't Materialize
Stacey Palmer | 4/17/2013, 9 p.m.
Marylanders should prepare to open their pocketbooks a little wider.
On March 29, the legislature approved Gov. Martin O'Malley's gas tax increase which will hike gas taxes during the next four years, beginning with a 4-cent jump this July. The money is expected to fund road improvement projects and mass transit.
The gas tax hike means more pain at the pump for motorists in Maryland, however, in another area Maryland consumers won't have to shell out more money.
A measure to have shoppers statewide pay for all those disposable plastic bags they get when they go shopping has disappeared – at least for now.
The Maryland General Assembly wrapped up its session on April 8, without taking a vote on legislation that would have required a 5-cent fee for each disposable carryout bag taken from a store.
Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III was in favor of the proposed law and had urged legislators to support the bill.
"In Prince George's County, we spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars a year cleaning up plastic bags," said Baker, adding that it will "help the county save money on the costs associated with the cleanup of the millions of plastic bags in our streams, parks and neighborhoods that are unhealthy for both wildlife and humans."
If the measure had been approved, for each nickel collected stores would receive 1 cent, customers would receive 2-cents credit for using their own bag and 2 cents would go to state – with half allocated to the Chesapeake Bay Trust and half returned to the counties.
However, the bill died in committee. Will it be resurrected during the next legislative session? It's possible.
For some time, grocery stores have been pushing to reduce the use of disposable bags as part of their sustainability initiatives.Safeway's goal is to reduce the number of plastic and paper bags used by one billion by 2015, according to the grocery chain's website. Giant deducts from shoppers' bills 5 cents for each reusable bag that they bring with them. Giant stores also accept plastic shopping bags, dry cleaning bags and newspapers and sends that material along with shrink wrap from its stores to a plastics recycling company. The plastic is turned into composite decking, which is sold at Lowe's, the website states.
Aside from taking up space in the landfill from plastic disposable bags that get discarded, the bags are also a problem in the recycling process.
At the county's Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) in Capitol Heights, plastic bags interfere with the automatic sorting equipment. The bags often get caught in the conveyor belts, jamming the rotating discs and causing the system to shut down. Workers at the MRF spend an average of four hours per day, at a total cost of $110,000 a year, clearing the bags and other materials from the screens, according to county officials. In addition, there's not much of a recycling market for plastic bags. Currently, the county receives $20 per ton for plastic bags, which ends up costing the county money.
A 2012 Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments report showed that 40 percent of all trash clean up consists of discarded plastic bags. Officials in Prince George's County say they spend approximately $900,000 a year for community clean-up staff to pick up debris that includes plastic bags.