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Montgomery County Prepares For Bag Tax

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Montgomery County will join D.C. in charging consumers a 5-cent surcharge for plastic shopping bags to encourage the use of reusable bags.
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Montgomery County will join D.C. in charging consumers a 5-cent surcharge for plastic shopping bags to encourage the use of reusable bags.

In a month and a half, Montgomery County's tax on paper and plastic bags goes into effect. And it isn't just shoppers who will make adjustments -- retailers must make changes so that they can charge the 5-cent per bag tax, one cent of which they get to keep. The rest will go to the county for cleanup and environmental programs.

To help raise awareness of the tax, Barwood Taxi cab drivers will pass out 4,000 reusable bags to riders starting next week. They are one of many businesses doing this over the next six weeks in partnership with the county. Local leaders such as Council Vice President Roger Berliner say they're not looking to collect much money from the tax. They'd rather people just stop using paper and plastic bags. Berliner adds that can only happen if people are aware of the tax from day one. He says, himself included.

"I have seven reusable bags in the back of my car," says Berliner. "And I still walk into the grocery store without them. And I promise you once I start having to pay that nickel, I'm going to hit myself upside the head and say no this is to easy."

Greg Ten Eyck, with Safeway, says they are making changes to their registers.

"There is a computer adjustment that we must make for that, he says. "One of the other major parts of this is we have to train our staff to ask the customer, 'Do you want bags today? And if so how many?' So that we can correctly charge the customer."

Ten Eyck calls it an inconvenience. But he adds there is a reason they're partnering with Montgomery County to pass out reusable bags.

"The effect of it does reduce the amount of bags we are distributing. So there is a cost savings to us, because we are purchasing fewer paper and plastic bags."

Several other large retailers are also passing out reusable bags, including Safeway's biggest competitor, Giant.

Montgomery County modeled its tax after a similar fee in the District, where leaders say in the first 18 months of the effort, litter was reduced by 65 percent.

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