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City Plastic Bag Ban Delayed, Scott Cites Pandemic


  Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott has issued an executive order to delay until July the implementation of a ban on single-use plastic bags sought by progressive legislators, citing the ongoing effect of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Scott said in a statement that he is fully committed to making Baltimore a more sustainable and environmentally aware city, but that his team needs “more time to get the implementation of this ban right for our businesses and residents.” 

The ban on bags like those found at the grocery store and other Baltimore businesses was scheduled to go into effect Jan. 13.

Under the law, shoppers will have the option to use their own reusable bags, buy reusable bags or paper or compostable bags for at least 5 cents each at checkout. Four of those pennies will go to businesses to offset the cost of the bags; city coffers will receive the remaining penny. 

Scott said city agencies will provide educational outreach to retailers so they fully understand the ban, as well as bolster efforts to provide reusable bags to Baltimoreans. 

“These changes will not happen overnight, and will not come easy as we continue to battle COVID-19,” the Democrat said. “But I know that with the support of our businesses and residents, taking these small steps now will have a tremendous impact in the future.”

Scott’s executive order allows the possibility of an extension to the ban. It also specifies that the ban must go into effect within 30 days after Gov. Larry Hogan lifts the ongoing state of emergency he declared last March and extended in October.

Comptroller Bill Henry introduced the legislation behind the ban in 2019. It was the ninth attempt to pass the bill in 15 years. Henry argued it would reduce litter and move the city closer to a zero-waste output.

On Tuesday, Henry said he supports Scott’s order.

“Reducing plastic pollution is still a priority for our city and our bay,” Henry said in a statement. “However, in this time of emergency, it is vital we take whatever actions necessary to respond to the public health crisis.”

The ban faced fierce opposition from some city grocers and restaurant owners who said the 5 cent fee cannot cover the costs of paper or compostable bags.  

City Council President Nick Mosby threw his support behind the delay.

“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,” he said. “When the ban does become effective, I will work side-by-side with the mayor to make sure our residents understand this change and what it means for them.”


Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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