A bill that would ban stores from using plastic bags for groceries and goods in Baltimore County drew overwhelming support from residents in testimony Tuesday night before the County Council.
Three council members last month introduced the Bring Your Own Bag Act, which also would levy a 10-cent minimum charge for consumers to get a paper or reusable bag from retailers at checkout.
The bill aims to incentivize people to bring reusable sacks when grocery shopping and to cut down on the litter generated by discarded plastic bags, according to one of its sponsors, Democratic Councilman Mike Ertel of Towson.
He and the two other sponsors, Democrat Izzy Patoka of Pikesville and Republican David Marks of Perry Hall, characterized the bill as pro-environment.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, also threw his weight behind the measure. Other Maryland jurisdictions, such as Baltimore City and Howard County, have implemented similar laws.
Twenty-three people, ranging from environmental advocates to religious leaders, submitted testimony voicing opinions about the bill ahead of Tuesday’s work session, in addition to the two dozen who gave in-person and virtual testimony.
“When we ban plastic bags, we keep our environment clean and at the same time send a message about the importance of environmental protection,” wrote Del. Dana Stein, a Democrat representing Baltimore County, in an email to the council.
“Methane from landfills full of single-use bags is one of the reasons that young people like me are facing a climate crisis,” said Pikesville high school student Julia Levin, who leads the Baltimore County Jewish Youth Climate Movement chapter.
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“Every single person testifying to oppose this bill tonight is speaking against my entire generation and our future,” she said. “We are in the midst of a climate emergency.”
But almost a dozen others, including Melvin Thompson of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, testified against the bill, asking the council to consider exempting restaurants and food service facilities from the plastic bag ban, citing reasons such as plastic being more durable than paper for holding takeout food orders.
“As we understand the goal is to incentivize customers to bring their own reusable bags, this doesn’t work for restaurants because reusable bags pose legitimate food safety concerns,” Thompson said. “Reusable bags could have been previously used to carry raw meat or seafood and other retail goods.”
Others said the bill would be a hardship for those on fixed incomes who couldn’t afford to buy reusable bags, though the bill makes an exemption for people receiving public benefits.
Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican, echoed their concerns and characterized the act as an “immature” bill that “overreached” into the private sector.
“We’re putting an artificial fee that penalizes the consumer and puts an undue burden on the business,” he said.
The council will vote on the bill at its next meeting Monday.