Photo: Natural Resources Defense Council

Baltimore Passes Plastic Bag Ban on 9th Try, Will Md. Follow?

This time next year, there will be a lot fewer plastic bags washing into the Baltimore harbor and out to the Chesapeake Bay. The mayor just signed a “bag ban” for stores and businesses throughout the city of Baltimore, and pledged to push for a statewide ban next.

It took nine attempts, going back to 2006, to ban plastic shopping bags in Baltimore City, but the ban is officially law, and will go into effect on January 13, 2021.

Under the Comprehensive Bag Reduction ordinance, grocery stores, shops, restaurants and gas stations will no longer be allowed to give out plastic bags at checkout. Customers must bring their own reusable bag, or pay a five-cent fee for another kind of bag, like paper. Of the five cents, one cent of the fee will go to the city and four cents to retailers, to cover the cost of the paper bag. (One past roadblock to the ban was that alternative bags, like paper, cost businesses more than plastic bags.)

The ordinance will hold retailers accountable if they do violate the bag ban: With three or more violations, dealers can face a misdemeanor charge and, if convicted, is subject to a fine up to $1,000 for each offense. And each bag handed out to a customer counts as a separate offense.

There are certain exemptions to the bag ban: fresh meat, poultry and fish, and unpackaged groceries like produce or bulk foods. Plastic bags will also still be allowed for prescription drugs, newspapers, and dry cleaning.

Plastic bags aren’t biodegradable and blow into storm drains or tributaries, then sunlight and waves break them down into microplastics. Microplastic pollution was found in all four Chesapeake rivers studied in a 2014 University of Maryland report—the Patapsco, Magothy, Rhode and Corsica Rivers.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said after signing the bill, “I am proud that Baltimore City is leading the way in creating cleaner neighborhoods and waterways so we can leave our city and state to our children better than we found them.”

Blue Water Baltimore, the Baltimore Harbor’s watershed organization, hopes the state of Maryland will follow Charm City’s lead. Blue Water Baltimore’s Taylor Smith-Hams writes in a blog post:

“Baltimore’s leadership on banning plastic bags is a major victory: after the city banned polystyrene foam in 2018, a statewide ban in 2019 soon followed. Let’s hope that Baltimore’s leadership today leads to a statewide ban during the 2020 legislative session. 

Maryland Delegate Brooke Lierman, a Democrat from Baltimore’s 46th district (which includes all of the city’s waterfront neighborhoods), will introduce the Plastics and Packaging Reduction Act in the state legislature this week. Lierman’s bill would require stores to ban plastic bags, and charge ten cents for paper bags– twice what Baltimore City is charging. It would also “establish a ‘Single-Use Products Working Group’ to study and make holistic recommendations on reducing plastic trash and single use containers in Maryland,” Lierman says.

Meg Walburn Viviano