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 are kept separate from general funds and put into a Disposable Plastics Reduction Fund.
One of the approved uses of the fund is to provide reusable bags “predominantly to vulnerable individuals.” So far, Howard County has provided 5,000 reusable grocery bags: 2,400 to the Howard County Food Bank, 1,500 to the county’s Roving Radish meal kit and food distribution program, 900 to 50+ centers and community centers, and 200 through outreach events. The Office of Community Sustainability will continue to partner with non-profit groups to supply bags to those in need.
Funds may also be used for Howard County to administer the fee and 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.
Howard County Office of Community Sustainability began a new grant program in 2021 for Plastics Reduction and Environmental Protection (PREP). Details on the 2021 grant projects and the 2022 grant application can be found on the PREP Grants page.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Display signage where carts are given out and at cashier points of sale. Howard County has designed
suggested signs and cards (downloadable versions below). Stores may create their own signs if they meet the guidelines outlined in the law.
The Department of Finance is responsible for enforcing retail establishments’ compliance with respect to reporting and submission of payments.
Please email any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Businesses can also contact the Finance Department by phone at 410-313-3258.