Baltimore Councilman Re-ignites Plastic Bag Furor

Baltimore Councilman Re-ignites Plastic Bag Furor

BALTIMORE, Maryland, June 18, 2013 (ENS) - Proponents call it a plastic bag fee, opponents call it a plastic bag tax, but whatever you call it, Baltimore is again at a decision point about single-use plastic shopping bags.

Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott introduced a bill June 10 that would require merchants to charge shoppers 10 cents for each plastic bag they take. The measure covers supermarkets, convenience stores and all other sales outlets in Baltimore.

Under Councilman Scott's bill, two cents of each 10 cent charge would be retained by the store where the bag was purchased.

Scott says he would like to direct the rest of the revenue stream to improve Baltimore's parks and recreation.

Baltimore Mayor Stephani Rawlings Blake. Credit: USDAgov
Baltimore Mayor Stephani Rawlings Blake. Credit: USDAgov

"We have more plastic bags in the streams than fish. If you go to a park in my district, all you see is plastic bags," he told the "Baltimore Sun" newspaper.

When the bill was introduced, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reversed the position she took four years ago as City Council president and spoke out in support of the 10 cent charge.

"We have to get creative about the way we protect our environment and encourage the behavior that we know will create a sustainable Baltimore," said the mayor, who said she has worked the plastic bag charge into her 10-year plan for Baltimore, a city of 620,000 people.

Many discount stores in Baltimore already charge for plastic bags.

"It's not like city residents aren't already accustomed to paying for plastic bags," Scott told reporters. "Many wholesale stores like your BJ's and Sam's Club and discount food stores like ALDI already charge a fee for bags."

But some food retailers are upset by the plastic bag proposal. Robert Santoni Jr., chief financial officer of the family-owned Santoni's Supermarket, said the charge would hurt low-income shoppers and stores that must pay a beverage tax increase imposed by the city last year.

As a board member and treasurer of the Maryland Retailers Association, chairman of the Maryland Food Dealers Council and a member of the Baltimore City Food Policy Advisory Committee, Santoni opposes the latest proposal for a plastic bag charge.

"They live in a fantasy world down at City Hall," Santoni said.

Scott's bill marks the third time in recent years that Baltimore officials have attempted to ban plastic shopping bags or charge for their use. But previous attempts did not stick, regardless of the messy, destructive litter caused by carelessly discarded plastic bags.

Baltimore's Parks and People Foundation calls plastic bags "notorious cloggers of storm drains."

In Baltimore, all of the storm drains lead to open waterways; none of them go to wastewater treatment plants. The stormwater flows to Chesapeake Bay, further contaminating the stressed estuary.

"Sea turtles and other animals often mistake plastic bags as jellyfish and consequently either suffocate or become artificially 'full' and starve trying to eat them. Boats and other marine equipment frequently require repair due to problems caused by floating trash, with plastic bags among the worst offenders," warns Parks and People in its latest newsletter.

During the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's June 2011 Clean the Bay Day, volunteers pulled more than four million pounds of debris from the shoreline and waterways. The trash wasn't categorized formally, but volunteers said plastics, including bags, were the most common pollutant.

The Baltimore Department of Public Works asks residents not to put plastic bags out for recycling. "With single stream recycling, we send our materials to a processing facility using an automated system to sort and bale recyclables. Plastic bags jam the automated machinery. Most retailers now collect used plastic shopping bags for recycling - you can even take your used dry cleaning bags to these collection points," the department says.

Santoni says supermarkets already are doing enough to control plastic bag litter. He says Scott's bill should be rejected because the compromise deal supermarkets and the city reached in 2010 is working. Under this agreement plastic bags cannot be offered to customers unless the store participates in a program to encourage their customers to recycle or shop with reusable bags.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

Cover photo: Washington Monument, located in Baltimore. Released into public domain.
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