GREENBELT – The Greenbelt City Council met for its first regular session of 2016 on Monday, Jan. 11, with an agenda that, while short, was not without controversy. Debate sprang up over a proposal filed in the Maryland General Assembly by Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-22) that would allow Prince George’s County to impose a […]
GREENBELT – The Greenbelt City Council met for its first regular session of 2016 on Monday, Jan. 11, with an agenda that, while short, was not without controversy.
Debate sprang up over a proposal filed in the Maryland General Assembly by Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-22) that would allow Prince George’s County to impose a fee on retailers for using plastic bags. Assistant City Manager David Moran brought the matter to the council’s attention because they had, in years past, expressed their support for similar measures.
Bill PG 404-16, as filed by the county delegation, allows the county to “impose, by law, a fee on a store for the use of disposable bags as part of a retail sale of products.” The fee may not exceed five cents per bag and does not apply to bags with handles and plastic at least 2.25 millimeters thick (which are designed for multiple uses). The fee also would not apply to bags used to package bulk items, frozen foods, damp items such as flowers and potted plants, bakery items, prescription drugs, newspapers or dry cleaning.
Although the council expressed strong support of the bill’s intent to reduce the use of plastic bags in Prince George’s County, with Councilmember Konrad Herling even making a motion to formally support the bill, questions were raised during discussion which in the end prevented the council from voting on that motion. Instead, the council voted for Mayor Pro Tem Judy Davis’s motion to table the measure until the next council meeting.
Leading the opposition was Councilmember Rodney Roberts, who believes the best way to tackle the issue is to ban plastic bags outright.
“Just to turn this into legislation where, ok we get to charge the businesses for the bags, I think this is a bad bill, personally,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good example for what we want to do with the issue.”
Councilmember Edward Putens also opposed the bill, wondering what alternative the stores would provide to help customers carry their purchases home. He also expressed his opinion that the stores would pass the cost of the fee onto the customers, a view echoed by Councilmembers Silke Pope and Leta Mach.
“Who gets hurt are the customers,” Putens said. “So I’m not going to support it, either.”
Moran could not confirm or deny that as a possibility of happening.
“This bill strictly says the retailer is responsible for the fee,” Moran said. “Now whether or not the retailer can pass the fee onto the customer, I don’t know.”
The council directed Moran to consult further with Senator Pinsky’s office and that of House Delegation Chair, Delegate Jay Walker (D-26), who is also supporting the fee, to get clarification on the issue and convey the council’s concerns.
However, Mach also said she “thinks it would send the wrong message not to support it” because the bill is meant to protect the environment.
“I don’t have a problem in supporting this, but I would also be very, very careful to monitor what the county does and when the county comes up with an ordinance, we need to really carefully watch and see what that becomes,” Davis said.
Mayor Emmett Jordan was also circumspect. He noted that plastic bags are no longer accepted into the county’s recycling stream, which creates a new reason to support the measure, but said there are examples of plastic bags fees already in the District of Columbia and in Montgomery County which have yielded mixed results.
“I get the impression it’s not working so well,” he said. “I shop in the District and in Montgomery County and they still have the bags lying around. Oftentimes they don’t even ask you they just stick the five or ten cents on.”
Moran said from his research, the environmental groups who have been proponents of this type of legislation are still firmly behind a bag fee and maintain they are a success in terms of removing plastic bag fees from the environment and the waste stream.
But Roberts asserted the best way to remove plastic bags from the environment is to ban them, and vowed to vote “no” on any and all plastic bags as contrary to that goal.
“In the long run it’s not solving the problem. It’s just creating another stream of money which in the long term makes it unlikely we will ever say no to plastic bags because now the county’s making money on plastic bags,” he said.