Baltimore’s plastic bag ban to be delayed until July due to coronavirus pandemic

Baltimore’s ban on single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, restaurants and all other retail stores — which was supposed to go into effect next week — has been delayed until July 9.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said he pushed the ban back because of the economic hardships facing residents and businesses due to the coronavirus pandemic.


“At a time when people are hurting — both our residents who are out of work and local businesses — it’s just simply not responsible to implement this right now,” Scott said.

The ban will require city shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to stores, buy a reusable one, or pay at least 5 cents for each paper or compostable bag provided at checkout.


The ban could be pushed back further due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Scott’s executive order. It will take effect no later than 30 days after the end of the governor’s coronavirus state of emergency expires.

The city had hoped to have thousands of reusable grocery bags on hand to distribute to residents, but had far fewer than expected when Scott took office last month.

“At this point, it’s not a time to Monday morning quarterback what was happening in a previous administration,” Scott said. “Again, we’re talking about something that was happening during the middle of a pandemic of COVID and an epidemic of gun violence.”

A man carries a take-out lunch near Mondawmin Mall. Baltimore City's ban on single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, restaurants and all other retail stores has been pushed back six months, until July.

Over the next six months, city officials have plans to start “working directly with our retailers to strengthen outreach so they understand what this means to them and how they can comply with the law, stepping up our efforts to get reusable bags in the hands of our residents who don’t have a stash of them at home,” Scott said.

Local business owners had complained that the ban, signed into law about a year ago, would have required restaurants and retailers to switch to paper or other bags at a time when many are either closed and operating with limited capacity because of the pandemic.

All city restaurants are closed for dining, and can offer only carryout meals. Other establishments face capacity restrictions.

The ban would have exacerbated the problems faced by Terra Cafe and other city restaurants experiencing “a slow death” as they struggle to pay their employees and bills while relying on carryout business alone, said Terence Dickson, owner of the Barclay eatery.

“Somebody else go hug a damn tree,” Dickson said before the delay was announced. “Not right now. It complicates everything.”


Before hearing of the delay, Jackie McCusker, who owns Nacho Mama’s, Mama’s on the Half Shell, and Pizza and Wing Factory in Baltimore, as well as a second Nacho Mama’s location in Towson, said the ban “couldn’t come at a worse time.”

“We’re not anybody that doesn’t want to save the planet,” McCusker said. “It’s just a very difficult time.”

The dominance of carryout orders complicates the issue, she said.

“I will tell you, eight out of 10 people are walking out with takeout,” McCusker said. “It’s box-and-bag all day long.”

An effort to cut down on the city’s significant litter problem, the plastic bag ban had been proposed repeatedly, and faced fierce opposition, for nearly 15 years — long before city restaurants confronted restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Following eight other unsuccessful attempts at such legislation since 2006, the ban was signed into law by former Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young during a ceremony at the National Aquarium last year.


City Comptroller Bill Henry, who sponsored the bill as a city councilman, said in a statement he “wholly supports” Scott’s delay.

“Reducing plastic pollution is still a priority for our City and our Bay — however, in this time of emergency, it is vital we take whatever actions necessary to respond to the public health crisis,” Henry wrote.

City Council President Nick Mosby also voiced his support.

“Stopping shoppers from using plastic bags is the right thing to do, but not in the midst of this crisis where it would bring the greatest burden to our neighbors who are already fighting to meet even basic needs,” Mosby said.

One penny of each nickel-per-bag surcharge will go to city coffers, with the other four cents going to the business to offset costs of switching bags, collecting the fees and sending the city’s share each month. The surcharge, which won’t be charged for reusable bags, will be itemized on all receipts.

After two citations, noncompliant businesses can be fined up to $1,000 per violation.


Dickson said he pays $18 per 500 pack of plastic carryout bags. With the plastic bag ban looming, he recently checked the price for a 500 pack of paper bags with handles: He said they cost $50 more.

“A nickel won’t do it,” Dickson said. “What does a nickel do? I’ve got to give the city a penny of that.”

Danielle Babcock,  Brewers Hill, puts groceries into her cart as Taprea Gills, cashier, rings up her purchases at the Safeway on Boston Street. Baltimore City's ban on single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, restaurants and all other retail stores has been pushed back six months, until July.

The ban will raise an estimated $300,000 for the city in the first year, although city officials expect that amount to decrease each year as people gradually shift to reusable bags and buy fewer paper ones.

“This is not about the city making money,” Henry said. “This is about trying to change people’s behavior, trying to encourage people to use reusable bags.”


The Maryland Retailers Association applauded Scott’s decision Wednesday.

“We applaud the Mayor’s office for delaying the bag ban,” wrote Cailey Locklair, the organization’s president, in a statement. “Consumers and employees have very real concerns about reusable bags and COVID-19 and have clearly said this is not the right time to enact this. The national paper bag shortage compounds the issue as well.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a nonprofit focused on the health of the watershed and Maryland’s environment, said in a statement that they, too, support pushing back the ban.

“In Baltimore City, especially, we are in a public health crisis that’s causing financial hardships. We think delaying the plastic bag ban is appropriate until the city can overcome this crisis,” wrote Carmera Thomas, the foundation’s Baltimore Program Manager. CBF continues to support the implementation of reducing single-use plastics and litter in the city as well as statewide.”

For the record

Due to incorrect information provided by the mayor's office, an earlier version of this article included an incorrect date for the start of the plastic bag ban. It has been delayed until July 9.