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A new 5-cent tax on shopping bags

It's supposed to be an incentive to carry reusable shopping bags. But old habits are hard to break.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 6, 2012 3:31PM

This guest post comes from J. Money at Budgets are Sexy.


We now have to pay a 5-cent tax for each paper or plastic shopping bag we get at stores in Montgomery County, Maryland. And I've already gotten suckered into it twice on opening day. (This new tax went into effect Jan. 1 -- kind of like my free Wendy's Frosties, only it doesn't require me to bring my own cups!)


I remember when the bag trend hit Washington, D.C., a couple years back, where everyone was charged 5 cents every time they needed a bag for purchases of food and alcohol (including, as luck would have it for me, Subway). It seems now it's spread to the great state of Maryland too. Which is good and bad.


Good because obviously we're trying to save the environment here and many of us like nabbing those bags left and right without a care in the world (or at least I used to).


Bad because now it's costing us every time we do it. And double when you extra-bag it for milk and other heavy items at the grocery store -- quickly making your total add up. (I think on our last trip we used like 25 plastic bags, which would have come to $1.25.)


But you add in trips to 7-Eleven or any other place where you buy things that normally require a bag, and that will pile up faster than you can say Al Gore. Post continues below.

Of course, you can easily avoid this new tax as long as you play by the rules. So far, the only way I can figure out is to fill your car with a dozen or so reusable bags and then carry them in with you every time you dip into a store -- effectively making you the newest bag lady on the block.


It's definitely not convenient, that's for sure. Though, yes, I know it'll still save some trees and landfills. Which I'm all for, believe me. I just need to figure out a smoother way of doing so. And one that I'm not going to forget every other shopping trip.


Has this fee hit your area yet? Are you already rockin' those reusable bags like it's second nature? If so, I'd like to hear about your secrets. I need to whip myself into shape before I end up blowing hundreds of dollars a year on something I got for free for the last 32 years -- that's quite the habit. Help me save the environment and my wallet, please.


Also, what will you then use for trash can liners and dog poop picker-uppers? Do you know how empty our under-sinks are going to be now?


More on Budgets are Sexy and MSN Money:

Jan 6, 2012 7:41PM
Sounds like a good first.  Environment, and all that.  However small the fee is, I am not thrilled about being charged per bag at all.  When we are on vacation we often frequent local grocery stores, and since we are flying, not driving, it's not "convenient" to carry around the reusable bags.  Nope, not cheap, just consider it another protest against being told I "have" to do something.  Oh, yes, and I DO use the cloth bags here at home.
Jan 6, 2012 7:26PM
The solution to the whole disposable plastic bag problem is simple: implement the same law in California that applies to aluminum cans, glass containers, and many plastic bottles called California Redemption Value (CRV). Yes, it's gonna still cost maybe a nickel a bag - but that's a small price to pay for convenience (or inconvenience depending on how you look at it), you can get your nickel a bag back by turning your bags into the same place as your cans and bottles, it gets the tree huggers off everyone's backs on this issue, and you can bet there will be as many of those disposable plastic bags littering the streets and parks as are aluminum cans.
Jan 8, 2012 10:56AM
One of our grocery stores pays you 10 cents for each reusable bag you bring in to use for your groceries.  I'm bad about remembering to grab them because I never know which car I'm going to be using and if I have them in the trunk - again, I forget.  Oh, yea, it's heck getting old, too!
Jan 7, 2012 1:47AM
Some things are simple by planning ahead.  You didn't buy 25 bags of groceries on impulse so make sure you have the reusables on hand for large "stock up" trips.  Being a  permenent pederstrian, I use a backback a lot which means that for most small things I don't need a bag unless it's rainings (backpack isn't water proof) and it keeps my hands free.
Jan 21, 2012 3:46PM

I could give a rat's a about the environment this law sucks.  The 5 cent law does not come under the COLA and is another way to gouge us disabled and/or senior citizens.  Here is one for any tree huggers that like carnival rides.  Come up to my neck of the Northwest and chain yourself in one of my trees that may have a spotted owl nest.  If it is on my property and I want it down it is coming down ol momma owl or not.  That includes any tree huggers brave/stupid enough to chain their fool rump high up in that tree.  Ya haven't saved a dang thing doofus cause "TIMBER" she's a commin down, enjoy the ride, may be your last!  Environment, hell, I got no use for it and even less for any Sierra Club jackasses!

Jan 6, 2012 4:57PM
Like it or not, most of the things we do affect the environment negatively in some way. Since habits are hard to change, we need to take measures that can seem intrusive. Believe me, though, you'll adapt - either by using reusable bags more or paying the fee.

The author says that he or she is all for trees and not filling up landfills - but the problem is that the vast majority of us are but we won't do anything unless nudged (an intentional allusion to behavioral economics).

I've switched to reusable bags myself. Frankly, if I see an abandoned and intact plastic bag at work, I'll scavenge it and use it as a trash bag - that was what I used to do with whatever bags we got at the grocery store that didn't develop tears (unfortunately, those are flimsy bags and many of them tore).
Jan 6, 2012 4:28PM
I live in DC and it definitely did not take long to adjust to always grabbing some reusable bags before heading out to the grocery store - or becoming okay with throwing small things from a convenience store in my purse.  It's not too hard to remember to grab the bags if you store them somewhere near your purse/keys/grocery list/front door.  Also, like with plastic bags, you can store multiple bags inside each other, so you don't have to struggle with a mess of bags strewn all around.

Granted, we now walk to the grocery store and reusable bags are much easier to carry and hold more then typical plastic or paper bags, so that has probably made the switch easier. On the occasions where we have forgotten the bags, it's never really bothered me to pay the 5 cent charge - it's not that much, it's good for the environment, and it's completely avoidable.

Jan 6, 2012 4:39PM
Jan 6, 2012 4:58PM

Reusable bags are probably here to stay, but people need to realize that they need to be washed regularly, it's best to keep a zippered cooler for meats, poultry, ice cream, milk etc after placing them in plastic bags from the produce department. Using a colored bag system such as red for meats and green for produce helps to avoid salmonella contamination or cleaning chemicals mixed with food products.  


I use canvas beach bags with pockets, which I can hold coupons, wallet, cell phone, bottles etc.

They are made of sturdier material and stand up to washing and drying and hold more. I keep several in the trunk of my car along with the ones I bought from the grocery store.


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