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Baltimore will soon say bye to plastic bags at checkout. Here’s what you need to know.

Baltimore mayor "Jack" Young signed into law a ban of single-use plastic bags.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack" Young signed a bill Monday that bans retailers’ use of plastic bags starting next year, saying he was proud Baltimore is “leading the way in creating cleaner neighborhoods and waterways.”

The law will prohibit grocers and other retailers from giving out plastic bags, and require them to charge a nickel for any other bag they supply to shoppers, including paper bags. Retailers would keep 4 cents from the fee for each alternative bag they supply, with a penny going to city coffers.

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Environmental advocates, who championed the bill, call it an important step toward reducing plastic pollution.

Young signed the bill while surrounded by marine life at the National Aquarium along the Inner Harbor. He was joined by some of the City Council members who pushed for this legislation; it had been proposed nine times since 2006.

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John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium, right, speaks Monday about the importance of the bill to ban single-use plastic bags in Baltimore. Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young, seated at center with city leaders standing behind him, signed the bill, which will take effect in one year.
John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium, right, speaks Monday about the importance of the bill to ban single-use plastic bags in Baltimore. Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young, seated at center with city leaders standing behind him, signed the bill, which will take effect in one year.(Amy Davis)

“Single-use plastics are not worth the convenience,” said John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium. “My hope is that one day we can walk Baltimore’s streets and parks and never again see a plastic bag choking the branches of a tree or cartwheeling down a street or fouling the waters of our Inner Harbor.”

The mayor pledged to fight for a statewide ban in the General Assembly.

Here’s what you need to know about the law.

When will retailers stop giving out free plastic bags?

The law will take effect in early 2021.

How will this be enforced?

Those found to violate the ban three times or more would face a fine of up to $1,000.

How will people know about this change?

The city’s health department and sustainability office are tasked with spreading the word through education and outreach campaigns. The sustainability office would like the city to distribute reusable bags as part of that process, and target low-income residents, in particular.

“Our goal will be to make sure that everyone is prepared for the changes and has enough reusable bags to reduce the number of single-use bags and to avoid the fees,” city spokesman James Bentley said. “We expect that there will be many partners who also want to fund reusable bags for distribution to lower-income households, so the outreach will also coordinate ways to help with that distribution and track how many are given away.”

Which retailers does this impact?

It will apply to grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies, restaurants and gas stations, although some types of products would be exempt, such as fresh fish, meat or produce, newspapers, dry cleaning and prescription drugs.

How will this help reduce plastic pollution?

The city is counting on people to switch up shopping habits and relying more on reusable bags.

How are retailers taking the news?

Some retailers opposed the ban because they said it placed too heavy a financial burden on retailers. Paper bags are much more expensive to buy than plastic ones, grocers testified during hearings.

Jerry Gordon, the owner of Eddie’s Market, said he will continue to hand out plastic bags until the ban takes effect. "They are more economical and much easier for my clients to carry,” he said.

He said he will comply with the law when the time comes. Already, he estimates about 30% of his customers come to his Charles Village store with reusable bags.

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“It’s hard to tell how much it will cost,” he said. “People will adapt, as time goes on, to getting reusable bags, so it’s very hard to tell.”

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