In the news

The Diamondback
Leah Villanueva

After a 20-minute debate, the SGA voted to urge Prince George's County to place a surcharge on paper and plastic bags at its meeting last night.

The measure, which would place a 5-cent tax on disposable bags, has divided county and state lawmakers. Although some Student Government Association legislators raised concerns over how effective a plastic bag tax would be in reducing bag consumption and littering, the organization ultimately backed instituting a countywide implementation of the tax in a 10-4 vote, with one abstention.

Legislators will wait until next week's meeting to vote on the proposed Community Cleanup and Greening Act of 2012, which would place a statewide, rather than countywide, additional charge on bags.

To inform legislators about the financial and environmental costs the state incurs from disposable bags, Julie Lawson, a representative from Trash Free Maryland Alliance, spoke at the start of the meeting. The country uses 100 billion plastic bags and 10 billion paper bags — or the equivalent of 14 million trees — annually, Lawson said. In the state, many of those bags eventually end up in the Anacostia River and the Chesapeake Bay, Lawson added.

While most legislators voiced support for the statute, several questioned how effective such a tax would be.

"There's no evidence that offering an incentive instead of a penalty wouldn't also change behavior," neighboring commuter legislator Aaron Zaccaria said. "If our litter laws and enforcement aren't enough, then what's to say that charging a fee for using it would be more effective?"

Zaccaria and David Lieb, computer, mathematical and natural sciences legislator, also raised concerns about how the money generated from the tax would be used. In its resolution, the SGA calls on legislators to use the revenue toward county environmental initiatives. A similar bill passed in Washington generated $15,000 toward Anacostia River cleanup and has decreased plastic bag consumption by 80 percent.

However, Lieb and Zaccaria noted with significant state budget cuts looming, there is no guarantee lawmakers would not use the tax revenue elsewhere.

However, Senior Vice President Matthew Popkin, who is also an undergraduate representative on the university's sustainability council, spoke up several times during the debate in favor of the bill.

"Anyone can use reusable bags; there's no poverty line or socioeconomic class to it," Popkin said. "We're not saying you're a sinner if you use [disposable bags], we're just saying we should limit our consumption."