Montgomery County’s bag fee now in effect!

Shoppers in Montgomery County now have added incentive to skip unneeded disposable bags at checkout in local stores, as the County’s five-cent bag fee went into effect on January 1. The County expects the fee to generate $1 million in revenue this year, which will be used to purchase and distribute reusable bags to low-income and elderly residents, and to support storm water improvement and litter abatement programs through the Water Quality Protection Charge fund. Here’s another story about it from Fox 5.

As with any change, some shoppers have expressed confusion about when the fee applies. As in 2010 when DC’s bag fee took effect, the media is quick to highlight these stories, but, also as in DC, we expect that consumers will learn the ropes and begin to make a habit of reusing bags. The County has already distributed more than 30,000 free reusable bags. It also has a thorough Q&A section on their website and is actively promoting bag giveaways at stores around the county, including Safeway, Walmart, Whole Foods, and Little Bitts Shop. For more updates, be sure to follow @BringYourBagMC on Twitter.

If you still aren’t convinced about the problems of plastic bags, Green Wheaton invites you to attend a free screening of the film Bag It! next Monday, January 9, at 7 pm at Brookside Gardens. They will also be distributing free reusable bags from Safeway! Register for your seat here.

Bag Humor

We spotted this funny on Enjoy!

How much plastic is in your community?

Props to the Surfrider Foundation’s Cape Fear Chapter for this excellent, simple video:

This is a terrific project for your volunteers to do. Just head out to a regular roadside in your community and pluck the bags out of the bushes. Line them up, look them over–anything unusual?–and share with the world. You can post your videos to our new Facebook page, and we can show the General Assembly that this is a problem statewide.

Your cloth bags are not going to poison you

The wire stories about bacteria in reusable bags are starting to make the rounds again. (Funny how they re-emerge during key points in campaigns to enact a plastic-bag-reduction ordinance, huh? Almost like it’s an opposition tactic…)

The study, authored by microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, asserts that reusable bags that are exposed to raw meats can harbor bacteria. It goes on to imply that when consumers don’t wash their bags regularly, that bacteria can transfer to other foods and potentially cause food-borne illness.

There are several good rebuttals already out there, particularly this one from Consumer Reports, which points out a number of holes in the study–notably funded by the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying/trade organization for plastic manufacturers. Among the flaws:

    – Only 84 bags were tested. The sample size is not statistically significant.
    – The bacteria found aren’t even harmful to human health. They tested for Salmonella and Listeria and found none.

Check out this quote, from Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union:

“A person eating an average bag of salad greens gets more exposure to these bacteria than if they had licked the insides of the dirtiest bag from this study. These bacteria can be found lots of places, so no need to go overboard.”

Which brings up an excellent point: bacteria are everywhere. Dr. Gerba regularly releases “dirty household items” studies–conveniently funded by corporate interests. Last month he released a study of the “germiest” common items (underwritten by Kleenex and hand sanitizer manufacturer Kimberly-Clark), and reusable bags weren’t included. He also says grocery cart handles carry more bacteria than a typical bathroom.

So is the answer really to avoid reusable bags? Of course not. No illness has ever been linked to cloth bags. But it does make sense to follow common-sense food safety practices like washing your hands. Especially after you’ve handled all those other doorknobs, gas pumps, and grocery carts…

Support a Prince George’s County Bag Bill

By Brent Bolin
Director of Advocacy, Anacostia Watershed Society
Cross-posted from

The Anacostia River is so severely impacted by trash that in 2007 it was declared impaired by trash under the provisions of the Clean Water Act. Only the second river in the country to be so designated, and the first multi-jurisdictional river (Maryland and DC), in 2010 a trash TMDL, or pollution diet, was issued that requires Anacostia jurisdictions to reduce the amount of trash entering the river.

At the end of 2008 AWS released a scientific study of trash in the Anacostia River. One of the key findings of this study was that 33% of the trash in the tidal river was plastic bags, while nearly 50% of the trash in tributary streams was plastic bags.

Plastic bags snagged along the Northwest Branch in Chillum, MD

The only truly sustainable way to deal with trash in our waterways is to reduce litter at the source — AWS and volunteers can’t be expected to hold trash clean-ups forever, and even trash traps only capture a portion of the trash in a waterway (and also require time and effort to maintain). For this reason AWS supports sensible policy changes that reduce trash at the source, such as DC’s bag bill.

The DC bag bill is seen as a model trash reduction policy because of its simplicity and effectiveness. Assessing a 5-cent fee on disposable carryout bags, the bag bill creates an incentive for consumers to bring their own reusable bags to the store — if you don’t take the store’s bags, you don’t pay! As a result of this policy:

There is no such thing as a free bag — instead the cost of purchasing bags is passed on to the consumer via higher prices. AWS estimates the “hidden cost” of bags at $15 – $37.50 yearly for each Marylander. The bag bill is pro consumer because it exposes this hidden cost and allows the customer to avoid it. Unlike a tax, the bag fee can avoided — if you don’t want to pay the bag fee, you never have to!

Bags along roadside vegetation in Hyattsville, MD

Montgomery County has already followed DC’s lead and enacted a bag program, and it is time for Prince George’s County to do the same – it will help the county meet trash TMDL obligations, clean up our waterways, and generate funds for water quality propection.

How you can help
For complicated reasons involving the county’s charter from the state, Prince George’s County must receive authorization from the General Assembly in order to enact a bag fee program. Fortunately, the County Executive and several members of County Council are interested in the bag bill and they are seeking that authorization in the form of a local bill in the General Assembly. Prince George’s County spends $2.5 million annually on litter clean-up and a bag bill would help reduce a major source of litter in our communities.

Please consider supporting the bill by attending the local hearing this Saturday, December 3, 9AM, at Queen Anne’s Theater, Prince George’s County Community College, Largo, MD. The bag fee authorization bill is number PG 402-12. Even if you aren’t sure how you feel about a bag fee program, this decision should be made by the county council and not by state delegates so please urge your legislators to support home rule for Prince George’s County by enacting PG 402-12.

Write your delegates and delegation chair Melony Griffith to tell them to support PG 402-12!

Upcoming workshops

One benefit of Alliance membership is training opportunities. I am beginning a road show of workshops around the state to educate members and other interested folks in the ins and outs of a plastics campaign.

This Wednesday, November 16, I will be at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in Baltimore. The workshop begins at 2 pm and will focus primarily on legislative solutions to plastic litter, including case studies of the successful advocacy campaigns in Washington, DC, and Montgomery County. If you are interested in attending, please email me!

Other workshops are scheduled for December 1 in Cambridge and December 13 in Berlin. Check our calendar tab for more details.

In brighter news…

A roundup of recent success stories:

Brownsville, Texas, instituted a ban on plastic bags in January, and residents are seeing the results:

Brownsville resident Juan Peña says he has noticed that the city looks a lot cleaner.

Travel around any part of the city and you probably will not see plastic bags clinging to fences or discarded on the roadways.

Peña says West Brownsville especially looks cleaner than it did about 11 months ago. He says the decision by city officials to implement a plastic bag in January was a good thing.

As part of the transition, stores could continue to give out plastic bags if they added a $1 surcharge to the transaction as an environmental fee. The bulk of the fee goes to the city — about $250,000 was collected and used for litter pickup and as an incentive for bulk waste disposal.

Portland, Oregon’s plastic bag ban took effect on October 15. Mayor Sam Adams expects the transition to be smooth, but hopes curmudgeons will blame him, and not the cashiers:

And Chicago is now considering a plastic bag ordinance as well. Alderman Joe Moreno is proposing a ban in order to prevent a scenario he recently described:

“I am, right now, I’m at [a] school in my ward, I’m about to meet with the principal, I’m on the playground,” said Moreno. “And I can count eight bags just sitting here…it’s windy out today, bouncing off the fences in this little playground area….Someone’s got to clean those up, and it’s city taxpayers that pay for that.”

We reap what we sow

Shocking video of a canal in Naples after a storms:

Why do we do this to ourselves? Thanks to @FlotsamDiaries for the tip.

DC Bag Fee Creating Green Jobs in DC and Maryland

DC Greenworks is a Washington, DC, nonprofit social enterprise that consults, designs, and installs low-impact development projects to protect the environment. In that vein, the organization manages rain barrel installation for the District Department of the Environment’s RiverSmart Homes program.

A third of their funding for the rain barrel program comes from the Anacostia River Cleanup Fund, aka the bag fund. This additional funding has substantially increased what they are able to do.

In 2009, before the fee went into effect, DC Greenworks installed 400 rain barrels at homes around the District. This year, with the additional funding, they expect to install 1000 rain barrels!

This increase has led them to hire two part-time installers. Peter Ensign, the organization’s executive director, says that the rain barrel manufacturer, RiverSides, is ramping up production to meet the growing local demand. Though based in Toronto, the organization has added a manufacturing site at C.R. Daniels, a textiles, metal, and durable plastic factory in Ellicott City, Maryland. This move has piqued interest by Montgomery County, too, who is considering increasing the scope of its rain barrel program (Rainscapes) with this new local source.

Rain barrels improve water quality by capturing rain that falls on roofs and allowing residents to use the stored water during dry spells. This practice reduces the runoff that pollutes streams and rivers, while also reducing the amount of drinking water residents must pay for to water their landscapes.

In a press release, Marcus Ginder, Chair of RiverSides RainBarrel Group, says they expect the move will help them develop additional partnerships in the region. They also currently provide barrels to Greenbelt Cooperative Homes. “With this move to Maryland,” says Ginder, “RiverSides RainBarrels will have a greater capacity to serve Chesapeake Bay protection organizations and municipalities with effective solutions to the stormwater problems plaguing old sewer systems.”

Guest Post: Are you ready for the Trash Summit?

by Laura Chamberlin
Program Manager, Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative
Alice Ferguson Foundation

We’ve worked together on cleanups. We’ve worked together to pass bag fees and get stronger regulation. We’ve worked together to improve composting in the region. Let’s continue our efforts to solve the litter problem in the Potomac watershed at the 6th Annual Potomac Watershed Trash Summit, on October 19 from 8:30am to 4:30pm at George Mason University’s Founder’s Hall in Arlington, VA.

With an array of roundtables, there is something for everyone. Topics include: policy issues, trash reduction technologies, odd items in our watershed, the regional litter prevention campaign, regulation, and containing waste. Nearly 300 stakeholders will participate including elected officials, community businesses and leaders, NGOs, teachers, government agency leaders, and trash experts to discuss how to create a lasting reduction of litter and waste in the area.

As a working summit, attendees not only have the opportunity to participate in the development of actions, but to commit to taking action for a cleaner and healthier Potomac Watershed. Expect to come away with inspiration and network of people working towards the same — ending litter.

This year’s summit will also engage and empower local students through the Summit’s Youth Track. Fifty high school students from the DC metro area will have the opportunity to attend a round table discussion proceeded by a briefing, create action items for their own schools, and present discussions to the larger group. Demonstrating the power of youth, the lunchtime keynote address will be delivered by a local middle school student who has been a strong advocate for a clean watershed since she began her campaign at the age of eight.

Will you join us? Will you make a commitment to taking REAL action to reducing litter in the Potomac and beyond? To learn more and register go to