The following information is from Live Green Howard website (https://livegreenhoward.com/recycling-waste/plastic-bag-fee/)

Starting October 1, 2020, all stores in Howard County who provide customers a disposable plastic bag at the point of sale are required to charge 5 cents per bag. Customers cannot be charged if they use their own bag for their purchases.

Why a Bag Fee?

The bag fee is in place to reduce the use of disposable plastic bags and the costs incurred with removing them from the environment. The bag fee will also raise awareness about single-use plastics and their associated environmental impacts.

Plastic bags are a significant source of litter. They often get stuck in trees and are also commonly found during local stream cleanups, roadside cleanups, and in the Chesapeake Bay. Many animals accidentally ingest plastic bags or pieces of shredded plastic bags, which is almost always fatal.

Based on other jurisdictions’ data after having a bag fee for multiple years, bag fees lead to a reduced use of disposable plastic bags which in turn leads to a reduction in litter and pollution in our waterways and forests. Stopping a pollutant at the source is always more effective and cost efficient than cleaning it up later.

What Will the Money Be Used For?

Businesses will keep one cent from every five-cent fee to cover their administrative costs. Money collected from the bag fee by Howard County Government will go into a separate Disposable Plastics Reduction Fund.

The funds will be used to provide reusable bags to residents, particularly low-income residents, and for Howard County to administer the fee collection. The funds will also be used for environmental purposes including providing grants to local groups with projects and programs that will reduce litter, increase environmental education and awareness, and improve water and environmental quality of our communities.

Given revenue won’t be received until early 2021, grants likely will not be available until 2021. Check back for details.

The Legislation

Below are links to the Howard County legislation and the state enabling legislation that contains some of the definitions referred to by the Howard County Council when they wrote the bill.

Howard County bill CB-64-2019

Maryland enabling legislation, Maryland code section 13-1001

Definitions

The state legislation that enabled Howard County to implement a bag fee (link above) includes the following definitions:

  • Store – “a retail establishment that provides disposable bags to customers as a result of the sale of a product.”
  • Disposable bag – “a plastic bag provided by a store to a customer at the point of sale.“
  • Disposable bag does not include – “a durable plastic bag with handles that is at least 2.25 mils thick and is designed and manufactured for multiple reuse.” Other exemptions such as meat and produce thin plastic bags, bulk item bags, and pharmacy bags are also listed. See the complete list here.

For Customers

As of October 1, 2020, consumers will be charged five cents per disposable plastic bag used “when the customer pays for the products placed in the disposable bag.”

  • If you choose to use a disposable plastic bag provided by the store, the cashier will charge you five cents per bag used.
  • You will be charged five cents per disposable plastic bag provided with your curbside, phone and/or internet order.
  • Self-service customers using disposable plastic bags must still pay five cents per bag at self-service checkouts.
  • You will NOT be charged if you use reusable bags at the store cashier checkout or self-checkout.
  • Thin plastic produce and meat bags will still be available at no charge.
  • Paper bags are not charged a fee. Other bags are exempt according to Section 13-1001 of the Maryland Code.

Reusable Grocery Bags

Sturdy reusable bags are the best way to get your groceries home safely and conveniently. Once consumers get into the habit of using them, they find that groceries are easier to carry than in multiple thin disposable bags which may rip and do not hold their shape.

Periodic washing, cleaning, or disinfecting with wipes or spray cleaners will reduce or eliminate any bacteria build up in the bags.  One way to reduce contamination is by utilizing a certain bag for a certain type of food each time you shop, i.e. having one bag for meats, one bag for produce, one bag for dairy, etc. and utilizing the same bags for the same items each time you shop.  Always separate raw foods from other food products and follow food safety practices no matter which type of bag you use.

For Retailers

The new Howard County bag fee program requires stores to:

  • Document on every receipt the number of plastic bags provided and the total amount charged for the bags. There is no requirement for specific wording on the customer’s receipt, but Howard County recommends “Howard County Plastic Bag Fee” “Disposable Plastic Bag Fee” or “Bag Fee” as space permits.
  • Retain one cent out of every five cents collected per bag to cover administrative costs.
  • Work with the Howard County Finance department to report quarterly the number of bags provided to customers and remit the fees (4 out of every 5 cents collected). The Howard County Finance Department has more details about how to remit fees on their webpage, www.howardcountymd.gov/bag-fee.
  • Display signage where carts are given out and at cashier points of sale. Here are downloadable versions:.

3×5 Cashier Card (4 per page)

4×6 Cashier Card

8.5 x 11 Poster

8.5 x 14 Poster

Enforcement

The Department of Finance is responsible for enforcing retail establishments’ compliance with respect to reporting and submission of payments.

Questions

Please email any questions to bagfee@howardcountymd.gov. Businesses can also contact the Finance Department by phone at 410-313-3258.

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Regular readers of my blog know how I feel about this tax / fee on shoppers in Howard County. I am not a fan. I was fully supportive of a ban on these products at point of sale…but in the end the county chose to take the tax / fee approach.

I wonder how many retailers have updated their point of sale systems for this upcoming change that begins next week? I wonder how many residents in this county know this will kick in next week? I have not seen a big push about this to the community recently. Have you?

I have heard that some stores are asking shoppers to not bring in reusable bags. I have not personally seen that in Howard County. If you know of stores asking shoppers not to bring in reusable bags (due to COVID-19 concerns or other reasons) let me know in the comments.

Scott E

8 COMMENTS

  1. Trader Joe’s was not allowing reusables into the store for a long while. They provided paper bags, or just put everything back into the cart, which you could then take to your car and bag up.

  2. If some of the main stores are not allowing reusable bags, why is the county requiring us to pay a fee (tax) for bags. Why not wait until this virus season comes to an end. Otherwise it just seems like one more tax levied against us.

  3. It’s all about the $$$. If they were so concerned about the environment, then they would completely ban plastic bags. The stores aren’t unhappy – they’ll get a penny per bag for something they previously gave away for free. The county looks at it & says great we get 4 cents a bag & now we don’t have to allocate as much funding for environmental issues – yes, the new money will go toward environmental concerns but they’ll just reduce the funding that would have already been allocated. These are just illustrative numbers I’m using to make my point: if the budget was previously $1 million plus $500K from bag tax, then the funding won’t be $1.5 million – instead the county will cut funding to $500K plus $500K from bag tax, so they’ll still just $1 million for environmental funding.

    My Trader Joe’s rant: Went to the one at Gateway Overlook a few months back, shopped & went to check out including a brand new, for sale in the store reusable cooler bag at $8 that I wanted them to put my groceries in. I was informed that they couldn’t put my groceries in a reusable bag, even if it was a brand new one they were selling. I questioned if the bag was contaminated in some way then they shouldn’t be selling it. They were adamant they couldn’t use it. I left the groceries & haven’t been back there since. Too many other grocery stores to shop at.

    With the bag tax, I’ll just do my grocery shopping in Anne Arundel, Carroll & Frederick counties.

  4. Unless it has changed recently, I have been bringing reusable bags into the Safeway at Long Gate when I shop. However, I always do self check out, so maybe that makes the difference.

  5. I take my own reusable bags to Weis and do self checkout and it hasn’t been a problem. I support this bag tax because I hope it starts to get stores to stop mindlessly putting everything in a plastic bag. I bought 2 items at McDonalds recently and it was slapped into a giant plastic bag before I could stop it. Everywhere I see plastic on the ground, in bushes, in rivers, in the Bay. Let’s do something about it!

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