B.Y.O.B., Bethesda: Bring Your Own Bag

Some observations on the response of Bethesda residents to the new Montgomery County five cent bag tax.


This week, after a nice long, relaxing walk on the Capital Crescent Trail in nearly 60 degree weather, I went to the Giant on Westbard Avenue.  My mouth was watering thinking about eating dinner after that nice long walk – never a good time to go shopping!

I pulled into the parking lot and grabbed my reusable grocery bags.  I have been trying to use them faithfully for months.  As I started walking towards the door to the store, I noticed that the crowded parking lot was filled with all kinds of people carrying in and out reusable grocery bags.  It made me smile as it dawned on me that the new five-cent bag tax that went into effect on Jan. 1 had truly made its impact on a critical mass!

I saw one man in his nicely tailored suit (probably a lawyer – everyone in Bethesda is a lawyer) exit his car with one solitary bag in hand that he neatly folded as he walked toward the store.  I thought to myself, “Five cents means that much to you, huh?”  I wondered whether he used to carry in that bag before the tax came into effect, or whether he was responding like so many others to the fact that a tax – even five cents – will be avoided at all costs!

As I walked through the store aisles I realized that almost without fail the shoppers had their bags in hand – some were nice canvas ones; others were paper shopping bags from department stores; still others were your garden-variety grocery store bags.  The age of the shopper didn’t seem to matter either – I saw a teenage boy carrying one.

The bag tax in Montgomery County came into effect on Jan. 1, 2012 with the primary goal of reducing pollution in local streams and stormwater.  Apparently the plastic bags are one of the most common items to litter our local waterways. In addition to reducing pollution by encouraging the use of reusable bags, the county will also raise funds from the five cent tax towards a water quality protection fund.  They expect to raise roughly $1.5 million in the first year.  I guess five cents adds up!

Apparently, Bethesda residents agree that the tax adds up as they carry bags with them everywhere they go.  As a self-professed “Greenie” I am very happy to see this new habit developing in our town.  However, even I was caught off guard at Subway restaurant recently when I was asked whether I wanted a bag or wanted to pay five cents for one. 

My knee-jerk reaction was, “What?  I can’t just have a bag here anymore?”  But then the Greenie in me kicked in and I just decided to carry my sandwich in its wrap and try not to drop the napkin.  We are not just talking about grocery store bags folks.  Any carry out bag – department store, grocery store, sandwich shop, etc. is included.  According to a Jan. 2nd article in The Huffington Post, “It does not, however, apply to bags for prescription drugs, newspapers, garbage, pet waste, yard waste, restaurant leftovers and good[s] purchased at farmers markets.” 

You know what’s next don’t you?  These bags will become a fashion statement and people will be paying big bucks for GUCCI and Coach grocery bags.  It’s only a matter of time!  You know you want one!  

This blog post also appears on Bethesda365.

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David Heyman January 20, 2012 at 01:52 PM
The grocery store is the easiest place to use reusable bags. How are things going at malls? I too am a "greenie," but I'm not walking around the mall carrying bags with me. I'll carry my purchases straight out to the car. Which might mean I'll buy less. Or buy more via the Internet. In which case local stores and Maryland tax revenues suffer.
Brian and Amy Maury, Bethesda365.com January 24, 2012 at 05:34 PM
I agree - it's much more difficult to remember to use your own bags at the mall and other department stores. I do notice more and more people doing so though - and many of the shops are now selling bags to keep - some fold up into surprisingly small balls/other shapes to carry in your purse. Alas, I doubt you carry a purse David so no matter how small it just won't be as convenient for a man. But there is always the option of paying 5 cents. What I find most interesting about all this is the impact that the 5 cents has on our psyche. If the stores increased prices on their shelves by 5 cents, no one would likely notice much, but when the word "tax" is attached to anything, we all notice and avoid it! Interesting point you make though that the Internet shopping may end up having a very negative impact on Maryland tax revenues. I agree.
BG January 28, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Along with more thefts in all stores. Who needs to check out? Just walk out. I bet we see more loss preventive numbers go way up!!!! Also, i heard if you buy a bag this is a tax to the county, therefore, save your receipts and put them in at the year end of our own taxes....because we are paying a tax...


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