Baltimore County residents will no longer be able to buy plastic bags when they go grocery shopping after a new law goes into effect later this year.
The County Council voted Monday evening to pass the Bring Your Own Bag Act. The vote was 5-2, with Councilman Todd Crandell, a Republican from Dundalk, and Chairman Julian Jones Jr., a Woodstock Democrat, casting dissenting votes.
Council members Mike Ertel and Izzy Patoka, Democrats from Towson and Pikesville, respectively, and David Marks, a Republican from Perry Hall, introduced the bill last month to incentivize people to begin using reusable bags.
Under the law, which takes effect Nov. 1, customers will be charged a minimum of 5 cents for any paper or reusable bag they buy, which was amended from a previous version that would have levied at least a 10-cent fee. Shoppers who bring reusable bags will not be charged a fee.
The bill is meant to curtail customers’ use of plastic bags and cut down on litter, after the three council members said they had heard complaints from residents about trash on the streets.
“I vote for the environment,” Marks previously told The Baltimore Sun after he, Patoka and Ertel introduced the bill at a Jan. 3 council meeting.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, supported the measure.
Before the vote, Marks said: “I will support any efforts to reduce plastic pollution to try and make sure we can preserve the precious county resources we’re spending on removing litter and to preserve the vitality of our waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.”
Ertel also framed the act as a tool for reducing waste as Baltimore County’s sole landfill nears capacity.
But council opponents saw it as something else.
“This bill is a complete government overreach into the relationship consumers have with the establishments they patronize,” Crandell said. “I don’t think I’ve seen, in my eight-plus years on the council, a more convoluted piece of legislation. I think this puts an undue burden on our business community.”
Jones said the bill would be an added burden on customers, who already are paying inflated prices for eggs and other goods, and would force retailers to implement an unpopular rule on their consumers without recourse.
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“I think we definitely make a wrong turn when we decide to make people pay for something,” Jones said. “Even if the retailer says, ‘I don’t want to charge.’ I can support banning plastics, but I can’t support extortion.”
The act prevents retailers, like grocers and restaurants, from giving customers plastic bags at the point of sale. They also will need to display a sign stating how much each paper or reusable bag costs. The law will be enforced via the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections and will carry a financial penalty of up to $500 for every time a retailer violates it.
Previous language that would have exempted the 5-cent charge from applying to people on public benefits, like SNAP, was struck down, along with an exemption for retailers using plastic bags to wrap bulk items, like fruits and vegetables, prepared foods, baked goods and frozen foods, as well as flowers, plants and other damp items.
An exemption for farmers markets was part of the bill that was approved.
[ Baltimore County lawmakers introduce measure to ban plastic bag sales ]
Advocates on both sides of the issue fiercely debated the bill at a council work session last week. Almost 50 people weighed in via email and with virtual and in-person testimony. Retailers said the fee would unfairly target facilities that use plastic bags to protect against foodborne illnesses and that plastic bags were more durable for holding takeout orders than paper.
Environmental advocates said banning plastic bags is an easy way to mitigate the effects of climate change, as they cannot be recycled and often end up in landfills.
Other Maryland jurisdictions, like Baltimore City and Howard County, have similar laws.
A previous version of this article was incorrect in reporting the vote tally and exemptions in the law. The Sun regrets the error.