For the second time, Baltimore has delayed implementing its ban on single-use plastic bags, giving retailers until Oct. 1 to comply with the ordinance.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott originally pushed back the ban in January to July 9, citing the economic hardships created by the coronavirus pandemic. Scott credited needing more time to distribute reusable bags and educate community members for the further delay.
“Now that Baltimore is beginning to emerge from the pandemic and recover from its impacts, we recognize that retailers and residents could benefit from additional time to adopt this important change,” Scott said in a Friday news release.
The legislation requires shoppers at grocery stores, restaurants and all other retailers to bring their own reusable bags or purchase a paper or compostable bag for 5 cents at checkout.
From the nickel-per-bag surcharge, one penny will go to the city, with businesses keeping the other four cents to compensate for the costs of switching to nonplastic bags and collecting the fees. The surcharge, which won’t be applied for reusable bags, will be counted on all receipts. Retailers that violate the policy three times or more can be fined up to $1,000.
City Comptroller Bill Henry, who sponsored the bill as a city councilman, agreed with the decision and the need for a comprehensive outreach strategy.
“I’m excited to support the Office of Sustainability’s public education campaign on the plastic bag ban as we move out of the state of emergency,” Henry said in the statement. “Collaboration is the only way to accomplish the ban’s goal — reducing plastic waste in our waterways and lessening our reliance on fossil fuels.”
The Office of Sustainability will work with elected officials and community partners the next several months to reach out to businesses to address any concerns about the ban’s surcharge. Since January, the Baltimore Development Corp. has worked with retailers to answer questions about the online portal they will use to remit the portion of the fee owed to the city, according to the city’s director of sustainability, Lisa McNeilly.
In the months since the initial delay, the city also has sent out information about the impending ban in residents’ water bills and postcards to businesses. While officials planned to distribute reusable bags to residents in the spring, they made less headway than they expected.
“We had hoped that by summer, everything would have been more amenable to the rollout,” McNeilly said. “But what we’ve seen is that there continued to be some concerns from retailers about using reusable bags and having the capacity for it.”
McNeilly said that the city is continuing to purchase reusable bags and plans to capitalize on existing efforts such as back to school events and food distribution sites to distribute the bags to low income Baltimoreans.
“We want to help people avoid the fee and also be able to take advantage of distributing as many reusable bags as we can so that there’s less of a burden on lower income households,” McNeilly said.
Rosalyn Vera, owner of Cocina Luchadoras in Fells Point, said that she’s doing her part to be environmentally conscious and has switched to paper products for takeout order packaging and bags before the ban goes into effect. But she believes the city needs to do more to offset the cost to customers who have supported her business throughout the pandemic.
“Our customers are already trying to go about their life as normal and are supporting us … and then you go ahead and charge them more, it’s not OK,” Vera said. “For me, I’m all about the customer and the community.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Christine Condon and Colin Campbell contributed to this article.