The Common Council of the city of Westminster voted Monday, May 13 to restrict the distribution of single-use plastic bags, as well as to formally pass the budget for financial year 2020.
Council member Benjamin Yingling voted against the plastic bag ban, while Council members Tony Chiavacci, Mona Becker and Greg Pecoraro voted for it. Council President Robert Wack did not vote. He said he does not typically vote when his vote is not needed to break a tie. After the meeting, he said he was in favor of the council passing the legislation.
It will make Westminster the third municipality in Maryland to impose a bag ban, after Chestertown and Takoma Park. Three states have passed similar bans.
A public hearing was held at the April 24 meeting of the Mayor and Common Council, which prompted a robust number of community members to comment.
It also prompted amendments to be made to the legislation, which will become a new chapter of the city code and go into effect in the summer of 2020.
City attorney Elissa D. Levan said the amendments removed “pushing-the-envelope” language that would have classified single-use plastic bags in violation of town code as contraband that could be confiscated.
It also added exemptions for plastic bags used in “wrapping plant material (such as tobacco) that might be subject to spoilage, bags used by restaurants for take-out and delivery of foods, and the distribution of bags by small businesses with fewer than 25 employees at all of their establishments, unless the business is a franchise,” according to a memo included in the meeting packet.
Pecoraro and Becker, who first asked the city to consider the plastic bag restrictions, said they spoke to the business owners who had attended the first public comment session to get more information as the amendments were drafted.
Pecoraro said many community members also brought attention about biodegradable bags to the forefront of the conversation.
Only one person spoke at the second public hearing, held Monday, May 13.
Erin Graziani represented the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), which represents the U.S. plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry. She offered her organization’s assistance with the technical aspects of bags and their recycling.
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She said the EPA said plastic bags made up about 0.3% of municipal solid waste and that plastic bags are 100% recyclable at collection centers including Shoppers, Target, Food Lion and Walmart.
She said that plastic bags are also cheaper than paper bags for business owners. “A lot of people think that the cost of paper is about to go up a lot, because there's a really high demand for it right now,” she said.
Before voting nay, Yingling said he voted against the ban because he believes that evidence shows that bans actually increase a city’s environmental footprint.
“Studies have shown alternatives which seem, quote, ‘greener’ actually plays a greater burden on the environment. They require more resources to produce and transport,” he said.
“I think educating the public on best practices on environmental friendliness is far more effective,” he later added.
He supported the goals of environmental stewardship and thanked his colleagues for proposing the ordinance, giving him the chance to learn more about the issue.
All members of the council voted unanimously to pass the city budget for the year. There was no public comment regarding the budget at Monday’s meeting or any previous meeting.