A Baltimore City Council committee sided with retailers by voting Monday to amend a proposed ban on plastic bags so that it only applies to particularly thin bags, a move that upset environmentalists and the bill’s sponsor.
The amendment reduced the proposed threshold for banned bags from 4 mils — a mil is one thousandth of an inch — to 2.25 mils.
Retailers say bags that are 2.25 mils are reusable, and so should not be banned.
Environmentalists say such bags are barely distinguishable from the thinner grocery bags that can be found strewn throughout the community, and often enter the waste stream after a single use — just like the more common, thinner bags that still would be banned.
Democratic Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, vice chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, called the proposal “ridiculous” and asked that it be tabled so that members could have more time to consider it. She was particularly concerned she hadn’t heard of the proposed change before Monday’s meeting. Democratic Councilwoman Shannon Sneed asked committee members to delay any vote until they could examine bags of different thicknesses.
But Councilman Eric Costello, the committee chairman, was joined by councilmen John Bullock, Leon Pinkett and Robert Stokes in a 4-2 vote approving the change, which Costello said was also supported by Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Council President Brandon Scott. All are Democrats.
Democratic Councilman Bill Henry, the bill’s sponsor, worried retailers “could just continue to use plastic bags” under the amended language. He also said the added thickness of the permitted bags would not be enough to encourage their reuse by customers — leaving the city much in the same position as it is now.
“Nobody is going to keep one of those slightly thicker plastic bags in their trunk so they can go back next week and shop with it again,” said Henry, who is not a member of the committee.
Henry said he would do additional research on the issue.
Representatives of retailers and grocery chains in the city who attended the work session said that bags that are 2.25 mils thick are reusable, which is why the “industry standard” for plastic bag bans nationally is a 2.25 mils threshold.
Kate Breimann, an advocate with the organization Environment Maryland who also attended the hearing, said the amendment was bad policy.
“The term ‘reusable plastic’ is a misnomer,” she said, and the amendment "really compromises the integrity of the bill.”
She said she was frustrated that she and other environmental advocates were not asked to testify, while industry representatives were asked to do so.
The committee remains hung up on other aspects of the legislation, including a proposed fee for customers who choose paper bags at checkout and how much of that amount retailers could keep.