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Westminster’s plastic bag reduction law goes into effect July 1

Many Westminster businesses will no longer be allowed to use single-use plastic bags next month.

A plastic bag reduction ordinance established by the mayor and common council in 2019 will go into effect July 1. The city recently sent a reminder to the public.

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The ordinance states the restriction of single-use plastic bags is necessary to “protect the environment in the City and the planet; to reduce the presence of unsightly plastic bags in the public streets, gutters, rights-of-way, and trees; to protect the City’s watershed, protect wildlife such as birds from injury due to plastic bags; and to reduce the City’s impact on climate change.”

It also stated businesses in the city are encouraged to have signage advising customers the benefits of reducing, reusing and recycling and promoting reusable bags.

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“All business establishments are encouraged to make reusable carryout bags or recyclable paper bags available to customers,” it stated.

Those who do not comply with the ordinance can be punished by a $100 fine for the first violation, $200 for the second within any 12-month period. And $500 for any additional violation. Additional penalties can result in a suspension or revocation of a business license.

Businesses with fewer than 25 employees and not in the food takeout or delivery business are exempt from the ordinance.

Mayor Mona Becker was on the council at the time the ordinance was passed in 2019.

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“I would say single-use plastic bags are derived from petroleum products,” Becker said. “Decreasing the amount of petroleum use in general is a very good thing.”

She said another reason for the order is to target large grocery and retail stores that use hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the single-use plastic bags, which are difficult to recycle. A lot of it ends up as trash on the side of the roads and it’s harmful to wildlife, Becker added.

“The best thing you can do is reduce your use,” she said. “And that’s what this does.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures reported in February that California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont have banned single-use plastic bags. And a Maryland Matters article reported in 2020 that Takoma Park, Chestertown, Westminster, Montgomery County, Howard County and Baltimore City have passed legislation that either prohibits the sale of plastic bags or charges a fee for them.

Becker was elected mayor just last month. During the campaigns, her opponent, Dennis Dillon, sent a letter to Republicans in the city noting Becker’s support of the single-use plastic bag and called the ordinance “anti-business.”

Bob Leatherwood, chair of Carroll Republican Victory, said opposition to the ordinance has nothing to do with plastic bags.

“It has to do with businesses making decisions over what to use,” he said.

Leatherwood said most businesses he’s spoken to are not using plastic bags and the use of paper or reusable products was their decision. He said he’s a “major environmentalist” but does not believe it’s up to “big government” to enforce environmental orders.

Becker said the ordinance is not aimed toward small, locally owned businesses but the “larger chain stores that create a lot of the environmental waste.”

She said about half the businesses on Main Street, like JeannieBird Baking Company, Rare Opportunity Bake House and Cultivated, already comply.

“They’re already doing the right thing,” Becker said.

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