BALTIMORE — Plastic bags may soon be banned from Baltimore. Councilman Bill Henry introduced the Comprehensive Bag Reduction Bill Monday at the City Council meeting. It would ban distribution of all plastic bags in stores at checkout and impose a 5 cent fee on paper and other compostable bags.
"We're trying to help Baltimore City be more sustainable; trying to eliminate the reliance on plastic," said Henry.
He introduced the bill at a press conference Monday afternoon with Council President Brandon Scott, as well as representatives from Bmore Beyond Plastic, Trash Free Maryland, the Waterfront Partnership’s Healthy Harbor Initiative, Clean Water Action, Blue Water Baltimore, United Workers, Food & Water Watch Baltimore, and the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability.
"What damage are we willing to do to the environment for the sake of convenience? To have a plastic bag that we use for 15 minutes, 30 minutes and then it lasts for decades after that," said Adam Lindquist, director of the Healthy Harbor Initiative at the Waterfront Partnership. He said plastic bags are one of the leading sources of pollution, as they work to make the Inner Harbor safe for swimming.
"Mr. Trash Wheel has collected over 650,000 plastic bags from the Baltimore harbor since we installed him in 2015," said Lindquist.
"Plastic bags are responsible for more than 100,000 marine animal deaths a year," said Mitch Jones, climate and energy program director for the Food and Water Watch.
Advocates like Henry, Jones and Lindquist hope the bill gets more people to bring their own bags to the grocery store.
"Given the fact that the average four-person family would, in the past, have been using approximately 1,200 plastic bags a year, we all know we have these bags laying around," said Jones. "The real solution for consumers is to reuse the bags they already have or get reusable bags that are made out of recycled plastics and can be used multiple times."
The city council passed a similar ban five years ago but it was vetoed by then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Henry said this is the ninth time city council members have tried to reduce plastic bag usage and pollution in Baltimore. This time around, Jones is optimistic with the change in the environmental and political climates.
"This time there is a real shot of getting passed and having it signed by the mayor. After all, the current mayor was the president of the city council when the city council passed the bill a few years ago so I do think the politics have changed," said Jones.
The 5-cent charge on non-plastic bags would not apply to low income families. The bill would also repeal the plastic bag reduction program, a current initiative where businesses with food licenses voluntarily registering and maintaining records of bag usage.
The bill is now headed to the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations committee. A hearing date has not yet been set.
Henry recently announced he would not be seeking to maintain his city council seat in the upcoming election, instead challenging incumbent Joan M. Pratt in the race for Baltimore City Comptroller.