Democratic lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia will propose statewide taxes on plastic grocery bags in coming weeks, looking to the District as a model of effective legislation. In Maryland, the tax would be 5 cents per bag, according to state Del. Al Carr, D-Montgomery. In Virginia, it would be 20 cents, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. Revenue would go, in part, toward efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.
Bag tax proposals failed in both states in the past two legislative sessions, suffocated by fierce opposition from retailers and the plastic-bag industry.
Lawmakers' hopes are higher this year, however, based on the touted success of the 5-cent tax in the District. One year in, the District collected about $2 million for river cleanup, the equivalent of 40 million plastic and paper bags purchased. An environmental group that tracks the cleanliness of the Anacostia River reported that bag waste in the river is down by about two-thirds.
Carr, a perennial sponsor of the Maryland bill, said he'll tweak it this year to exempt farmers' markets and roadside stands in response to concerns from the Maryland Farm Bureau.
"I believe in the model set forth in D.C.," Carr said. "Chances for the bill are increasing as awareness grows, and as these efforts have spread nationwide."
Virginia Del. Joseph Morrissey, D-Henrico, may have a tougher sell in the state's conservative General Assembly.
"I don't think the General Assembly will be receptive to that at all," said Fairfax Supervisor Penelope Gross, D-Mason, chairwoman of the county's environmental committee.
Barring state legislation, the county has no power to impose a local bag tax, Gross said.
Shari Jackson of the American Chemistry Council argued that fewer bags means fewer bags to recycle. And that means less recycled material to make certain types of decking, park benches, pipes and shopping carts.
"It's not needed in order to convince people to be more environmentally conscious in how they deal with plastic bags," she said.