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Who's Left Holding the Bag?

Posted 6/10/2009

On June 2, the Washington, D.C. City Council approved preliminary legislation on a 5-cent plastic bag tax. This tax has been introduced as a measure to help clean up the environment of all the excess plastic bags and bottles that are not biodegradable.

In Baltimore, a similar tax is going to be introduced to the City Council with the exception that the tax will be raised to 25 cents (Councilmania, Sept. 24, 2008). While this is clearly a move to address a green initiative, is it a smart one? Some might see this as a tax on the poor. While the quarter-per-bag charge may not seem like a lot to the average person, in this very despondent economic time when every penny counts, is this a good time to make people pay more for their groceries? Actually when you think about it, you are making people pay twice. Most grocery stores, restaurants, etc. . . , places where one might get a plastic bag, are places where the price of the bag has been added to the overhead running cost of the establishment. That price is then added to the price of services.

Yes, we all know people who have a stash of plastic bags at home that they have picked up from grocery shopping and other outings, and it seems that the easy thing to do would be to dip into this excess and reuse them. But are we looking at the whole picture? You have people in grocery stores walking around with armfuls of plastic bags and now you have a security issue.

Baltimore City Councilman Bill Henry (D-4th District) says this tax will get people to think if they really need the bag. But has he thought about the mother of four with one check struggling to make ends meet who has no car and has to carry those groceries home? I guess she could get a couple of canvas bags and make multiple trips, but that does not really seem very practical.

I remember when the housing market came crashing down September of last year and speculators began to say that the home-market bubble burst was the result of the poor. So maybe Councilman Henry feels that now is the time for the poor, for those who are hit the hardest by this recession, those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, those who live on fixed incomes, to do their part in this green initiative and pay up their share, 'cause heaven knows that here in Baltimore, where jobs are scarce, where the city just laid off a group of city employees from the trash department, that they have not paid enough.

Derrick Jones
Baltimore

Edward Ericson Jr. responds: The bill in question, 08-0205, is due out of committee by June 16. The draft bill proposes an outright ban on flimsy plastic bags, not a 25 cent charge for them. The report on the bill by the Commission on Sustainability, was completed on June 4 and can be viewed online at http://legistar.baltimorecitycouncil.com/attachments/4653.pdf.

Corrections: Councilmania goofed big time in its last episode (Mobtown Beat, May 27). First, by misstating the date of the next Council meeting as June 8 (instead of June 1) and then by claiming the council advanced the One Plus One trash bill "without amendment." In fact, the bill had seven pages of substantive amendments; only those offered by Councilman William Cole (D-11th District) were defeated. City Paper regrets the errors.

In last week's Dirty Projectors story ("The Omnivore's Dilemma," Music, June 3), Dave Longstreth was misidentified in the caption for the accompanying photograph. He was in the 8 o'clock position rather than the 5 o'clock position. City Paper regrets the error.

And, finally, there was a missing "to" in the subhed to last week's feature on Tony Geraci's attempts to transform Baltimore City Schools lunches ("The New Meal," Feature, June 3), both on the cover and on the story's opening page.

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