Bag Fee Discussion at New Deal Cafe
March’s Reel and Meal program at the New Deal Café featured the film “Bag It” which is about the impact of disposable plastic bags and other plastic products in our lives. Two Prince George’s County Councilwomen, Ingrid Turner and Mary Lehman, attended the showing and discussed with the audience a pending legislation in the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis which will enable the county to enact a five-cent bag fee.
The city’s Public Works Department has set up a display by the café entrance. Those on the green tablecloth can be recycled with the city, and those on the red tablecloth cannot.
Glass bottles, metal food and beverage containers, rigid plastics, and bagged plastic bags can all be recycled in the city’s “single stream” recycling bin (meaning all recyclables can go into the same bin). Styrofoam cups, clam shell containers, and paper napkins cannot.
Lucy Duff (left) and Jean Newcomb volunteer for the Reel and Meal program and are at the café’s front door selling tickets. Admission to the film is always free, and the vegan buffet costs $13.
Chef Maria serves Peter May.
Jonathan Goldstein is wearing green. (St. Patrick’s Day was two days ago.)
A large audience is in attendance at tonight’s showing and every seat is taken. Here Cam MacQueen introduces the program. The Reel and Meal program is jointly organized by three Greenbelt organizations: Green Vegan Networking, Beaverdam Creek Watershed Watch Group, and Prince George’s Peace and Justice Coalition, and tonight MacQueen represents Green Vegan Networking. Reel and Meal is now in its fifth year, and more than 50 programs have been held.
Tom Taylor from the Potter’s House Book Store has been coming to the Reel and Meal program with books for sale. Here he is holding up Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth; last month “Dirt! The Movie” was shown here. In his other hand is “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”.
The film starts with efforts to charge a fee for disposable plastic bags including the successful attempt in Washington, D.C. since January 2010 and the unsuccessful try in Seattle in 2009. The American Chemistry Council, a trade association for American chemical companies, spent more than a million dollar to defeat the proposed fee in Seattle. The film talks about more than 60,000 single-use disposable plastic bags used in the U.S. every five minutes, single-use plastic bottles and coffee cups, trash in landfills, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean and marine animals affected by plastic debris in the ocean, and the dangers of bisphenol A and phthalates.
Mary Lehman (County Council member representing areas including Beltsville, College Park, and Laurel) and Ingrid Turner (County Council member representing area including Bowie, Glenn Dale, and Greenbelt) spoke after the film. Lehman tells the audience that the current House Bill 895 which will give Prince George’s County authority to impose a bag fee is “on life support” in the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. (Montgomery County, which started a bag fee this year, has its own taxing authority and does not need approval from the General Assembly.) The bill barely passed Prince George’s delegation in the House of Delegates with a vote of 12-9 (there are 23 members and the two not included were likely no votes). The bill is now being considered in the Environmental Matters Committee, and Lehman says that the committee chair Maggie McIntosh “is indicating that she doesn’t want a floor fight over the bill.” Lehman urges those in the audience to call McIntosh and urge her to move the bill to the full house. A hearing is scheduled for tomorrow (March 20) afternoon at 1 pm.
Martha Ainsworth from Prince George’s Sierra Club tells about a survey her group recently conducted. Volunteers went to grocery stores all over the county and observed the use of reusable bags by shoppers. “Only 7 percent of shoppers county-wide are using re-usable grocery bags—93 percent are using disposable bags, virtually all of them plastic.” “According to the survey, the highest reusable bag use was found in the northern part of the county—Greenbelt (15%) and Hyattsville/College Park (14%)—while the lowest rates were in the southern county—Accokeek, Brandywine, Ft. Washington, Oxon Hill, Upper Marlboro (collectively 2.5%). Bowie and Clinton were in the middle, with 8.6% and 7.2% of shoppers, respectively, exiting with a reusable bag.”
Lore Rosenthal asks whether automated form emails can make it easier for people to express support for the bill in the General Assembly.
Ingrid Turner replies that she does not like form emails and takes personally written messages more seriously. Lehman adds that the current bag fee being debated is generating international attention and legislators have received emails from places as far as Korea. She cautions the effectiveness of a general email campaign.
Hajia Fawehinmi of Adelphi asks with the ubiquitousness of disposable plastics what people should do.
Turner mentions that for example instead of buying bottled water one can use tap water with a filter or buy larger containers of water.
John Lippert tells that at MOM’s Organic Market in College Park, shoppers can bring their own bottles and fill them up with filtered water from a dispenser. The first gallon is also free.
Ed Fallon asks why there is such strong opposition to the fee in the House.
Mary Lehman tells that the fee has been framed as “a tax on poor people.” She says that when the bill was considered in the General Assembly last year, there was little media attention but this year, there have even been radio ads. She heard one that says something like: “Can you believe in this economy, some Prince George’s County lawmakers want to charge you for grocery bags?”
Donna Friend-Gomez comments that there seems to be a disconnect between the two camps: one sees this as an additional tax and the other sees it as an environmental issue. She thinks it’s better to motivate people with incentives–rather than charging a fee, maybe giving a refund to people who use reusable bags.
Dan Smith from Cheverly holds up a bag of mostly plastic trash collected from Quincy Run between Cheverly and Bladensburg. He tells that these items were picked up by a group of young people from the Midwest traveling by bus and doing community service along the way.
Harriette Phelps shows the group a reusable bag that she carries in her pocket. She tells that not all reusable are big and ugly, and this one by Envirosax can be folded into a fist-size bundle and is also fashionable.
Susan Stewart shows a bag she made out of an old T-shirt. She says that she is willing to bring her sewing machine to the Farmers Market and make bags like this for people.
Mayor Davis mentions that store clerks can also play a positive role when they urge customers to use reusable bags. On the left is Mayor Pro Tem Emmett Jordan, and on the right is Chef Karim.
Turner, Lehman, and those in attendance receive cloth shopping bags donated by the Greenbelt Co-op Supermarket.