Baltimore Councilman to propose ban on plastic bags, checkout bag surcharge at city retailers

Baltimore City Councilman Bill Henry plans to propose a ban on plastic bags at city grocers and corner stores, his office said Thursday.

His legislation also would establish a 5-cent checkout surcharge for use of other types of bags, including ones made of paper or other compostable materials.

Henry could not be reached for comment. His office said he plans to introduce the legislation at Monday’s council meeting.

“We’re trying to encourage people to start bringing their own bags to stores,” said K.C. Kelleher, Henry’s legislative director. “It’s about trying to create less waste.”

Similar proposals in the city have been defeated in the past.

In 2014, the council voted 11-1 to prohibit retailers from distributing plastic bags. Then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake vetoed the legislation, saying the public didn’t have enough time to weigh in.

Former City Councilman James Kraft, the proposal’s sponsor, said at the time it was the eighth version of plastic bag-related legislation that the council had considered.

Plastic bag bans are in place in cities including Boston, Chicago, Seattle and Washington, as well as in Montgomery County. Statewide bans are in effect in California and Hawaii; a ban is set to go into effect in New York state in 2020.

Henry is scheduled to announce his proposal Monday, alongside City Council President Brandon Scott and other colleagues on the council, as well as representatives from groups including Bmore Beyond Plastic, Trash Free Maryland, the Healthy Harbor Initiative, Clean Water Action, Blue Water Baltimore, United Workers, Food & Water Watch Baltimore and the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability.

Kelleher said the councilman has been working with those groups on the legislation since October and has received the support of Scott and at least five other council colleagues.

The legislation would exempt some uses of bags, including those used to contain otherwise unpackaged fruits, cheese or baked goods; any food and goods sold at a farmer’s market; prescription drugs; newspapers; dry-cleaned clothing; and fresh fish, meat and poultry.

Cailey Locklair Tolle, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, said she planned to weigh in on the legislation once it’s proposed.

Plastic bag bans, she said, can add significant costs for many retailers because alternatives such as paper are more expensive.

“This impacts every single one of my members,” she said. She said she planned to meet with them soon to discuss Henry’s proposal and find out “what they’re willing to live with.”

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