Dozens of shoppers popping into Safeway in Hillandale got a bit more than they bargained for as they were greeted by Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D). He visited the store Tuesday morning to give away hundreds of reusable grocery bags.
Customers without their own bag pay a nickel for each paper or plastic grocery bag under the county’s bag tax, which took effect on Jan. 1.
“We're making a very strong effort in the next few days to make sure we get the word out, to make sure people understand the law,” Leggett said. The county executive introduced the bill last spring and it passed the County Council in May 2011 with just one opposing vote. (Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) was a vocal opponent.)
The tax is expected to generate about a million dollars in revenue this year, according to Leggett. The money will go toward solid waste management, watershed restoration, litter pick-up and stormwater management.
“This is not a revenue generator for us,” Leggett explained. “Montgomery County’s budget is about $4.6 billion so a million is hardly a revenue source that is going to make a difference in Montgomery County."
“If we get more money, that means we’re not as successful,” he continued. “We would prefer to have less money, that means people are using the bags.”
Volunteers fanned out at other locations throughout the county as well. In Bethesda, volunteers from Barwood Taxi, who have already doled out about 2,000 of the re-usable bags for drivers to pass along to their riders, handed out about 150 bags at the fountain in front of the Barnes and Noble.
The taxi company was also on hand at the Safeway in King Farm with another 150 bags.
A spokesperson for Safeway’s DC-area stores said the company doesn’t “necessarily” support the tax, but that stores have tried to get on board to avoid passing on a cost to customers. Signs were posted near entrances and at checkstands to remind customers about the tax.
“It’s our goal that no one has to pay a nickel, we hope that everyone brings a reusable bag,” said Gregory TenEyck, director of public affairs for Safeway’s eastern division.
“The nickel is enough to encourage people to bring reusable bags, but it’s also not so much that people are being dramatically affected financially. It’s an inconvenience to have to pay an extra nickel, dime, quarter for some bags that you used to get for free.”
Trisha Chicas, a Hillandale resident, was prepared to pay a few cents extra before Leggett handed her a couple of complimentary bags.
“It’s a lot of work to bring your bags,” she said. “Sometimes you forget, you have kids […] I have two [reusable bags] and I forgot them.
“I understand the point in a way, but I think people will still forget,” Chicas said.