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Annapolis plastic bag ban looms as city considers also charging 20 cents per paper bag at larger stores

Annapolis is considering a plastic bag ban and 20 cent fee for paper bags at larger retail stores.
Annapolis is considering a plastic bag ban and 20 cent fee for paper bags at larger retail stores.(Baltimore Sun File Photo /)

Sometime last year, Michael Blonder began giving out reusable fabric bags with each purchase instead of disposable plastic bags at A.L. Goodies General Store, the souvenir shop he runs on Main Street.

The move, Blonder said, was in anticipation of a ban on plastic bags, though the city has not made an effort to do so in more than a decade.

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Eight states and myriad jurisdictions around the country have already banned them. And In neighboring Montgomery County and Washington, D.C., fees have been levied to direct consumer habits away from using the thin, flimsy single-use plastic bags that can find their way into nearby waterways, clogging up storm drains and getting tangled in tree branches.

On Monday, Annapolis Alderman Rob Savidge, D-Ward 7, introduced a bill that would prevent any retailers in the city — grocers, convenience stores, pharmacies and others — from providing plastic bags at the point of sale. The Annapolis bill also calls for a 20-cent fee for each paper bag that’s issued but only for larger businesses — those with a footprint of 20,000 square feet or more.

Savidge hopes the bill will sever the public’s reliance on plastic bags and help clean up pollution. It passed on first-reader without discussion Monday. A city bill does not become law until passed on third reader.

It now must go through a public hearing at the City Council’s next meeting on Feb. 24. Then it will be discussed by the Environmental Matters and Rules and City Government committees in March.

Members of the Environmental Matters — Savidge, Alderwoman Elly Tierney, D-Ward 1, and Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8 — are all co-sponsors of the bill. Alderman Marc Rodriguez, and Alderman DaJuan Gay, D-Ward 6, have also signed on as co-sponsors.

Tierney said she supports the bill though she initially wasn’t keen on including the paper bag fee, a sentiment echoed by Annapolis Environmental Commission chair Bevin Buchheister.

While the commission has yet to issue an opinion on the bill, a plastic bag ban is long overdue, Buchheister said.

“It’s not even innovative and forward-thinking anymore. It’s the right thing to do. We should have done it years ago," she said. "If the point is to not use plastics because they are made of oil and are a trash hazard for local waterways, a narrowly focused bill might have a better chance.”

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A similar statewide bill is currently in committee in the Maryland General Assembly. Under the cross-filed legislation — HB 209 and SB313 — retail stores would be prohibited from providing customers with plastic carryout bags thinner than 4 millimeters. If a store does provide a bag, they must charge 10 cents for each one.

Neither O-9-20 nor the statewide ban would include items like food packaging, garment bags or bags for newspapers.

A companion resolution lays out the fines for not complying with the proposed bill. The first offense comes with a $250 per bag fine. Fines of $500 and $1,000 per bag would follow for second and third offenses, respectively, within a six-month period.

In January, the Baltimore City Council passed a comprehensive bag reduction bill similar to the Annapolis bill. It outlaws plastic bags at grocery stores and other retailers, requiring them to charge customers 5 cents for each alternative bag they provide. The city gets 1 cent for each bag; the retailer keeps the rest.

Another large jurisdiction, Prince George’s County has been trying unsuccessfully for nearly a decade to impose a plastic bag ban.

The idea is to relieve the burden of smaller businesses from dealing with the administrative hassle of enforcing the fee, Savidge said.

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Annapolis has yet to issue a fiscal impact note on the bill. The bill states retailers would keep half of the fee. The rest would go to the city for administering the program, including enforcement and inspections and covering the cost of purchasing reusable bags for low-income residents.

Any leftover money would be put in the watershed restoration fund to clean up legacy pollution in the environment.

The proposed fee is higher than those instituted elsewhere. Washington, D.C. has done so for a decade and Montgomery County’s nickel tax on all bags has been in place since 2012.

A ban is an essential part of environmental restoration, said Rick Kissel, the former vice-chair of the Anne Arundel County Sierra Club. He recommended a delay in implementing the ban so customers could adjust.

“Any sailor has seen these bags floating around in the creeks," Kissel said. "They are harmful to fish and wildlife.

Some city businesses won’t be affected by the proposed legislation. Kim Owen, manager at Spice and Tea Exchange, said the store has always used paper bags because it fits with the shop’s brand.

For national stores that have locations in the city limits, they will adapt as they have done in jurisdictions that have instituted bans or bag fees.

Employees at the Trader Joe’s on Jennifer Road only offer paper bags to customers, an initiative that began about two years ago, said Kenya Friend-Daniel, Trader Joe’s National Director of Public Relations.

The Jennifer Road location is just over 10,000 square feet, and wouldn’t be required to charge a fee for their bags, but the store would comply if it became a requirement, Friend-Daniel said.

The national drug store chain CVS Health — which has three locations in the city — typically reduces their plastic bag inventory ahead of a ban and return leftover bags to a distribution center that are then relocated to stores where they’re still allowed, said Joe Goode, senior director of corporate communications for CVS Health.

Goode said most of their drug stores are between 8,000 and 12,000 square and wouldn’t have to charge for alternative bags under the bill.

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