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Mayor calls on city council to reconsider plastics ban

Baltimore Mayor Rawlings-Blake
Baltimore Mayor Rawlings-Blake (Erin Kirkland / File)

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Saturday implored the City Council to reconsider its proposal to ban most plastic bags at city stores, questioning not only the legislation but saying lawmakers moved it forward without public input.

Last week the council suggested banning plastic bags handed out by grocers and big-box retailers, amending a previous measure that would have charged a 5-cent fee for such bags, in part to discourage use. Discarded plastic bags are regarded harmful to waterways; the ban would make Baltimore one of the first cities on the East Coast to discontinue their use.

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A vote could come as early as Monday.

Retailers have said they'll fight the ban, and Rawlings-Blake cast herself as their ally. While visiting a Food Depot grocery store on Frederick Avenue in West Baltimore, the mayor said because paper bags cost merchants twice as much as plastic, the ban could drive merchants out of the city or prompt them to pass costs onto consumers.

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"I'm very concerned that this will be another cost for those who can least afford it," she said.

"The broader concern I'm hearing from business owners is that it's going to be difficult to attract businesses in communities that really need them," Rawlings-Blake said. "This could be something that inadvertently makes us uncompetitive with surrounding jurisdictions."

The council gave preliminary approval to the ban after holding a hearing on the 5-cent fee. Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said after the hearing that leaders want to reduce dependency on plastic bags, and "I decided the best course of action was an outright ban."

Rawlings-Blake criticized council for amending the proposal without public comment.

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"They did not allow for public [input] after the change was proposed," she said. "It's not transparent … and it's not right."

Rick Rodgers, chief operating officer of Baltimore-Based B. Green Wholesale, parent company of Food Depot, said scrapping plastic bags for paper would affect customers because the cost would be passed along.

"This community we're serving has the lowest income in all of Maryland," Rodgers said. "So while a couple of pennies doesn't seem like much, every penny counts."

Millicent Walker of Baltimore, who visited Food Depot on Saturday, agreed. "The majority of the people who live here are poor," he said. "I run out of food before the end of the month."

Reporters Yvonne Wenger and Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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