City plastic-bag ban fails

The Baltimore Sun

Legislation that would have made Baltimore the second city in the nation to ban plastic bags at grocery stores and retail chains was killed by the full City Council last night.

Intended to keep plastic bags from clogging waterways, the proposal would have required large stores - those with $500,000 or more in gross revenue - to bag groceries in paper or reusable bags only. Days after it was approved by a committee, the full council voted against the proposal, 11-3.

"I know there has been a lot of pressure on this bill," City Councilman James B. Kraft, the lead sponsor, said of opponents who have lobbied against the measure. "I think they're wrong about this."

San Francisco became the first city in the country to enact a partial ban on certain types of plastic bags last year. Annapolis considered a similar prohibition but decided late last year to study the issue further.

Kraft's proposal was approved 3-1 last week by the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee, which he chairs. Mayor Sheila Dixon said that she supports the measure.

But representatives from several Baltimore grocery stores said they oppose the legislation because paper bags are more expensive. Opponents also raised a number of environmental concerns about paper bags, which would be in higher demand if plastic bags were banned.

"It takes trees to make paper bags," noted City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, who voted against the bill.

Melvin R. Thompson, vice president of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, advocated against the bill's passage. In a letter sent to council members last week, he said that the issue would be better handled by the Baltimore City Office and Commission on Sustainability, which was created to draft a broad plan on such issues.

"We are not convinced that product bans are an effective means of controlling litter," said Thompson, whose organization represents carryouts and restaurants that use the bags to package leftovers. "In many cases, plastic bag litter will simply be replaced with paper bag litter."

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