Retailers Support Statewide Plastic Bag Ban

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Maryland could join eight other states in banning the sale of plastic bags — and state retailers support the measure.

The Plastics and Packaging Reduction Act prohibits a store from providing any plastic bags and requires a store to charge a minimum of 10 cents for paper bags.

The head of the Maryland Retailers Association said stores would prefer statewide legislation to a piecemeal approach.

“This bill will pre-empt six different localities that have fees or bans that have become too burdensome for multijurisdictional operators to keep up with,” the organization’s president, Cailey Locklair, told the House Environment and Transportation Committee Tuesday.

Takoma Park, Chestertown, Westminster, Montgomery County, Howard County and most recently Baltimore City, have all passed legislation that either prohibits the sale of plastic bags or charges a fee for them.

Currently, consumers are paying for the price of plastic bags already, hidden in the price of goods at stores.

“Our retailers want one law they can comply with that is straightforward for consumers in this state,” Locklair said.

In a survey done at ALDI and Lidl stores, when plastic bags aren’t available and other bags cost money, almost everyone brings a bag or takes no bag at all. Survey results show that only 0.4% of customers in Washington County opted to buy a disposable bag. In Prince George’s County, 6% of shoppers bought a disposable bag, and in Baltimore County, it was 2.2%.

A survey in Prince George’s County showed that without any ban or fee, 88.2% of customers took a plastic bag at checkout.

“If it costs money, almost everyone brings a bag or won’t take a bag at all,” said Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City), the bill’s sponsor. “It’s really astonishing at how quickly the behavior changes.”

The statewide ban would decrease litter, improve water quality and aid wildlife conservation and make for a more livable climate, over a dozen witnesses testified in the hearing. Plastic bags damage recycling equipment, the litter they generate affects the tourism industry and it costs state and local governments money to clean up that litter.

Because local jurisdictions have generated substantial revenue from their local plastic bag fees, counties and cities may see decreases in their revenues if the state law takes effect in July 2021.

“We changed before and we can change again,” said Prince George’s County Councilmember Dannielle Glaros (D), after explaining that the transition from paper bags to plastic bags didn’t occur until the 1980’s.

Paper bag production is also detrimental to the environment, which is why the bill includes a 10-cent fee to purchase them at checkout. Without the fee, there would be a massive increase in paper usage, including timber use and deforestation, Lierman said.

“The reason there is a minimum charge is because we don’t want people to take a paper bag, we want them to move entirely to reusable bags,” Lierman said. “This bill is not about going from plastic to paper, this bill is about going from plastic to reusable.”

The bill does not provide exemptions for SNAP or WIC recipients. Grocery stores could see over six digit increases if they had to cover the cost of the bags for people receiving those government benefits, Locklair said.

For years, previous attempts to ban plastic bags in Maryland haven’t moved past committee. But Del. Carl Anderton (R-Lower Shore) said that all previous bills also had a tax attached to them. This year’s version of the bill stands alone, with no tax attached.

The law would be enforced with a civil citation to retailers who don’t comply.

Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s) is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.