Montgomery County begins bag fee outreach

Last week Montgomery County rolled out a website with information for residents and retailers about how to prepare for the 5-cent bag fee, which takes effect January 1. Under the slogan “Fight Litter, Bring Your Own Bag,” the website explains the fee and where it applies (every retailer, both paper and plastic bags received at checkout), the problems of litter, and where the proceeds of the fee go (supporting watershed restoration). It also gives citizens tools to get involved, with a list of sites in particular need of cleanup and a space to report litter problems. There is even a schedule of webinars for retailers, to educate them on all the requirements.

It’s great to see the outreach beginning already!

Pick Up America: ABC’s Person of the Week

Last winter Silver Spring’s Davey Rogner took a break from his trek across the country with Pick Up America to help us talk to lawmakers about plastic bags and the problems of litter. His energy definitely impressed a lot of people along the way.

He also impressed ABC News, which featured him and buddy Jeff Chen last week during their “Person of the Week” segment. Congratulations, guys! Very proud to have you on our team.

Guest Blog: Local waterway targeted for massive cleanup

By John Long, Founder/President, Clean Bread and Cheese Creek

Historic Bread and Cheese Creek in Dundalk, MD, will be the target of a major clean-up effort on Saturday, September 24, 2011 from 8am to 2pm, rain or shine. Led by local environmentalist John Long, the group plans to target the section of the stream between the Arc Baltimore at Dundalk’s building at 1401 North Point Road and the North Point Boulevard pumping station.

Volunteers of all ages and ability are appreciated and welcome to join in the effort. Brawn and muscle are needed to extract shopping carts and other heavy debris from the creek bed, while others are needed to pick lightweight fragments from the water and the undergrowth. It is suggested that folks interested in getting into the creek wear hip waders (some will be supplied) or old boots and long pants. Volunteers are needed to staff registration, haul trash bags to waiting dumpsters, provide supplies to those working in the creek bed, and sort recyclable materials at street level.

Gloves, trash bags, bottled water, and lunch will be provided. There is a limited supply of tools and hip waders to loan, so volunteers are asked to bring their own tools. We run our cleanups as family events; everyone helps one another, which fosters a sense of camaraderie and brings fun, friendship and enthusiasm. We are authorized to sign off on Service Learning hours for students and Community Service hours for the court system.

Please click here for photos of the current conditions in Bread and Cheese Creek of the area that will be cleaned on September 24, 2011. Click here for a map of the location.

For more information, contact John Long via email or at 410-285-1202.

Recycling plastic increases consumption

Plastic Fantastic Love,” an article by Surfrider Foundation Hawaii manager Stuart Coleman, appeared in the Honolulu Weekly today. It gives a thorough explanation of the problem of plastics, and the threats it poses to marine life, public health, and a sustainable planet.

It also includes this excellent quote from Oregon Surfrider activist (and my friend) Stiv Wilson:

“Though we believe that material recovery in the waste stream is important, plastic recycling is not the ultimate solution,” says Stiv Wilson, a journalist and ocean activist who worked with the Surfrider Foundation to help pass bag bans in the Pacific Northwest. “Industry, by their own admission, can’t make a bag out of a bag. It takes 70 percent virgin plastic to create a new bag, which means all we’re doing by plastic recycling is creating more, not less plastic in the world, while giving the average, good intentioned citizen the illusion of progress. This is precisely why industry pushes plastic recycling–it’s a guaranteed increase in consumption, but it ultimately does nothing to reduce the amount of plastic garbage entering the ocean.”

Emphasis mine.

Implementing a Bag Fee Program

Montgomery County’s 5-cent fee on plastic and paper shopping bags takes effect on January 1, 2012, but there is much advance work required to ensure success.

Through an outreach campaign called “Fight Litter, Bring Your Own Bag,” the county is already taking steps to educate residents and retailers of the law’s requirements, and to assist low-income and senior citizens by distributing free reusable bags. The county plans to distribute 75,000 free reusable bags before January, through county departments and agencies, as well as community partnerships serving lower-income households.

The county will be meeting with large retailers and industry representatives to educate businesses about the law, and will provide decals, signs, and posters for display in shop windows and at cash registers to help retail staff and the public. Unlike the similar existing bag program in Washington, DC, Montgomery County’s bag fee will be charged at all retailers. (DC’s fee only applies at stores that have a food license.)

Finally, the county is creating a database to track the law’s effectiveness, to demonstrate the change in the number of bags used and those found in the litter stream.

Revenues from the fee will support the Water Quality Improvement Fund, which supports stormwater projects and watershed protection.

Surfer Kyle Thiermann Lays It All Out

Kyle Thiermann, a pro surfer and the spirit behind Surfing for Change, produced this great, short (4 minutes!) video that sums up why we should switch out single-use bottles and bags for reusables, and how easy it is to do it.

Who can you share this with?

Chestertown Bans Plastic Bags

Chestertown, a town of about 5000 residents on the Eastern Shore, has banned plastic bags! The ban was the brainchild of Mayor Margo Bailey, who has been pushing for the law for two years. She cites the pollution and litter problem, as well as the petroleum used in the bags’ manufacturing, as reasons to eliminate their use within the town’s limits.

The law wasn’t passed without drama. At a public hearing in March, town resident Kevin Walsh was arrested for disorderly conduct after yelling at police officers, according to the Star-Democrat. He came to the hearing sporting an orange jumpsuit and a tricorn hat, along with a sign of protest.

The vote was delayed until April 4 to allow for some changes, but ultimately passed 3-2. Citizens then mounted a signature campaign to try to put the issue to a vote on the November ballot, but came up short in the number of signatures required. Much of the discontent centered on activists’ views that the town government was overstepping its bounds (hence that tricorn hat).

The ordinance goes into effect January 19, nine months after its effective date. It prohibits the distribution of single-use plastic bags by merchants within town, except by take-out food businesses and for compostable plastic bags. Fines are $100 for a first offense, and $200 for subsequent offenses. The language of the ordinance is posted on

Chestertown is the county seat of Kent County, and has two major grocery stores, Acme and SuperFresh. Thus this ban will have an impact on shoppers from around the county, who drive to the town for errands.

There Is No "Away"

Legendary comic strip “For Better or For Worse” took on the problem of trash in our waterways in Sunday’s edition:

Creator Lynn Johnston had this to say about the strip:

Cartoonists are discouraged from using comic strips as a platform for preaching reform – but every now and then, something really gets under your skin and you simply have to write about it. For me, littering is a red flag. If I ruled the world all convicted litterists would receive a stiff fine, a broom and a dustpan. They would be sentenced to cleaning the community streets, parks and beaches for as long as it took to reform them – and even then, they would be on parole.  

When Katie cut her foot on a broken beer bottle at the beach one weekend, I penned this Sunday page – and the response was immediate. I received a lot of mail from folks who feel the same way I do – and it occurred to me: with so many people angry, frustrated and disgusted by littering, why do we still have so darned much of it??!!

I cut my foot on glass once while surfing in Ocean City. I feel much more comfortable wearing Five Fingers or my wetsuit booties now. Has this happened to anyone in your family?

Thanks to Rob Nixon at Waiting for the Next Swell for posting about this!

Outside MD: Oregon’s plastic bag ban fails

Disappointing news out of the Pacific Northwest today as a proposed plastic bag ban has been shelved in Oregon. After building tremendous support from businesses and legislators over the last couple of years, advocates ran into heavy opposition from the plastics industry, and time ran out on a compromise.

Just as in Maryland, the end of the 2011 statewide campaign is leading to several municipal-level proposals, with Portland Mayor Sam Adams vowing to ban the bag in his city of 583,000. Grocers had pushed for a statewide law, preferring that over piecemeal ordinances that vary by county.

For more details, see this article from The Oregonian.

Montgomery County Passes the Bag Fee!

Today the Montgomery County Council voted 8-1 in support of a five-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags. The fee will be charged by all retailers in the county starting January 1, 2012, with proceeds supporting watershed protection via the Water Quality Protection Fund.

The dissenting vote was Councilwoman Nancy Floreen.

Congratulations to Montgomery County for taking a step toward a trash-free Maryland!