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Litter Control... Who are we Kidding?

Dan doubts that the bag tax will have the intended benefits. Another government program that can't work. But don't worry... it's paid for with your money!

By now you have become familiar with the bag tax - a nickel per grocery bag just to help the county control litter. Preposterous!

Truth is, this is just another scam by your local government to take in more money to support big-government spending and is completely unrelated to controlling litter. The only potential way it might cut down on litter is because, perhaps, we'll take fewer bags from the grocery store and have fewer bags available to discard in the street indiscriminately.  But seriously, who discards grocery bags in the street indiscriminately?  Are they the type that will invest in reusable bags? Myself, I need those bags to collect trash in my car and to line my office waste basket!

Anyways, as I said, the cash taken in from this program is not being used for anything related to the problems caused by grocery bags or litter in general. Some of the cash is being used to fund a WSSC clean water initiative but most of what you now pay at the store goes to administer the program for charging you an extra nickel at the store - assessment, collection and enforcement of the bag tax needs to be paid for! This is significant because the program is large and is not well thought out. Witness:

I ran into the store very quickly during the first week of January with a handful of re-usable bags that my wife and I have been using for most grocery visits for several years now. It really is a responsible thing to do and many people in our community already carry their own. 

I got into the checkout line behind my neighbor, let's call her Lucy.  Lucy had a full cart of groceries and I got in line behind her and we kibbitzed. As the checker went through Susan's family-sized order she stopped several times to mark up the receipt as it came out of the register counting the bags each time. 

Now, by trade I'm an auditor so this process is upsetting me more than a regressive tax whose proceeds will be wasted by a bloated government.  I thought aloud: "Certainly there is no need to stop the checking process to count bags, they could be estimated at the conclusion of the transaction.  Couldn't they?  Even better, I spend over $100 on a typical trip to Safeway.  What would be the harm if they elected NOT to charge me for individual bags and instead embedded the cost in my groceries?" (I know I'm not getting out of paying the bag tax but retailers have proven happy to pay a lot more than fifty cents for $100 of my business.)

Now Lucy - not an auditor but with plenty of business sense - works in a chi-chi Potomac boutique of some kind.  Well, ok, the kind where you'd blush to walk out with $100 of stuff unless it was really knick knacks. Purchases at this place are typically BIG - and I'm not speaking for anyone here but I've got to believe the store is embarrassed to charge a nickel for anything! Lucy assured me the rules on this are very clear:  the retail establishment is to explicitly charge a nickel for every bag - no shortcuts!

Does that really make sense? Is the government really acting responsibly?  I noticed they didn't propose actually picking up trash along the highways or on ramps around here.  The public library in my neighborhood is still littered with trash all day every day and the strip center behind it is dirty. Why hasn't the county in its effort to decrease litter dedicated the extra nickels it's collecting to doing the things it should be doing - picking up trash in public areas and enforcing zoning regulations that no doubt require private property owners to maintain their exterior?

Sadly, I don't have the answers here. To me, the only thing more depressing than a government that isn't creative (I'd use the word progressive but that is a politically loaded term) and working for the taxpayers is an electorate that doesn't demand better when the government is failing and, frankly, Montgomery County is failing us by charging a regressive tax and not doing anything specific and valuable with the proceeds.

If I can inspire voters and taxpayers to ask these types of questions of their elected representatives and to expect - no demand - results I'll have done my job.  In the mean time, shop green!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Scott K. February 03, 2012 at 06:25 PM
When I am at a store, if they have empty boxes around (think: Costco, County Liquor Stores, etc.) I'll grab those. The tax does not apply to boxes, just bags.
Wick February 03, 2012 at 09:33 PM
The world is on pace to use $1 trillion (yes trillion) bags per year. The average family of four in the US uses over 2000 bags per year. You must have one messy car. Someone always has to lead on pesky issues like public health and welfare. I'm sure everyone was pissed when things like Led Paint, CFC's, DDT, Leaded fuel, among others were banned or taxed. I'm glad my children live in a world without them.
art slesinger February 03, 2012 at 10:18 PM
Many are ill informed. I will ignore led paint, it is lead, and bags do not go to landfills in MoCo, there are NONE. Alll waste is burned in the MoCo Dickerson waste to energy plant. And most importantly the tax goes to the storm water management fund that is aimed at controlling run off that would otherwise scour and destroy our streams. Note the steep sides of local brooks are caused by too much impervious surface causing severe erosion of banks. So the tax has nothing to do with litter. MoCo and other Cheaspeake Water shed communites are under pressure from the EPA to minimize the scouring and sediment transport into the Bay. Is it needed, yes. Is this the most economical way of getting the needed funds, that is hard to believe and the complete lack of cause and effect of the bags and runoff maks the tax ridiculous. Art Slesinger
Scott K. February 03, 2012 at 10:39 PM
I think the point of the article was that it is disingenuous to call it a litter control tax. If it is a watershed tax, then call it what it is. Also, the county has made it expensive to collect the tax as the collection is borne, once again, by point-of-sale retailers and (mostly) residents. What is interesting is that I don't see the same tax on the same bags if I buy them in bulk at Costco. The tax is only at point-of-sale, when the bags are distributed for the convenience of customers. It has even made the do-it-yourself checkout lines at stores a mess as someone has to retrieve the bags for you to use after you've first paid for them. It is just easier, and less hassle, to shop in Virginia (for so many things) on my way home now.
Temperance Blalock February 07, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Instead of whining about how oppressive this all is (which is the Tea Party reaction to just about everything), try asking a few small business retail vendors what they think about the law. I've been told by several gas station attendants and convenience store clerks that they're happy about this, because customers had developed a very "entitled" attitude where they expect every little pack of chewing gum to be placed into its own plastic bag. Shopping bags were originally designed as a courtesy and a convenience to customers. As someone who's been using cloth bags at the grocery store for over a decade now, I can affirm that I still end up with about a dozen plastic bags a month, all of which I end up bundling together and putting into the Giant plastic-bag recycling box. If someone who's deliberately avoiding accumulating them nevertheless ends up with them, I can only imagine that the 2000/year figure per family is accurate. And I can also affirm that I see very few other people returning them to the recycling box. The issue of whether taxes that are collected for a specific pretext are actually used for that purpose is another one entirely. We already know that it all ends up in a huge pot that is then fought over. Lottery revenue is not used to fund schools or to help Gamblers Anonymous, the county and state alcohol taxes are not used to help anyone go through rehab, and so on. The reason that everything is so filthy these days is selfishness, not taxes.
Daniel Grossberg February 08, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Thank you Scott! Conservative writers in Montgomery County have a tough time getting through to people who are pre-disposed to disagreement. You have restated the opinion perfectly: this will not lessen litter, will not address a real problem with litter and the dollars are not being used wisely. That's not political and I don't think there's anything there to disagree with!
Scott K. February 08, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Temperance Blalock said, "The reason that everything is so filthy these days is selfishness, not taxes." If what you say is true, then what is the purpose of a litter control tax? Somehow additional taxes are going to suddenly make people considerate and thoughtful? Also, aside from yourself, no one has mentioned that the tax is "oppressive" nor did they resort to labeling others in their replies.
art slesinger February 08, 2012 at 09:18 PM
The issue is not the intent of the tax but the methodology. One could speculate that it will cost 60 cents to recover every 10 cents when you add the store cost to the government owerhead. That is a poor use of our limited resources. I would like to keep all plastic out of the storm water including styrofoam and other non degradable plastics, I am not sure this is the ideal way we get to where we all want to go....a cleaner environment
Scott K. February 08, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Agreed Art.
Daniel Grossberg February 13, 2012 at 09:07 PM
http://northpotomac.patch.com/blog_posts/you-asked-who-to-do-what#comments_list Thanks everyone for your feedback. Perhaps you'd like to see my take on Obamacare and the Catholic Church? Follow the link above. I look forward to hearing from you.
Daniel Grossberg March 26, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Follow me on Twitter ( https://twitter.com/#!/DanGrossberg )and check out my latest post on Obamacare. http://northpotomac.patch.com/blog_posts/hands-off-my-healthcare

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