© 2024 WYPR
WYPR 88.1 FM Baltimore WYPF 88.1 FM Frederick WYPO 106.9 FM Ocean City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Plastic bag ban may soon be considered by Baltimore County Council

Rob Frier, Sierra Club
Rob Frier with the Sierra Club picks up plastic bags along Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills. Credit: John Lee

There is a push in Baltimore County to ban or restrict the plastic bags you get at grocery stores and other businesses.

Four of the county council's seven members said they favor taking action, saying something needs to be done to get a handle on the bags that flutter from tree branches and clog stream beds.

Rob Frier with the Greater Baltimore Group of the Sierra Club recently spent some time picking up plastic bags in a ravine between Reisterstown Road and a Target parking lot in Owings Mills.

“That’s not even a Target bag,” Frier said. “So that made it from somewhere else.”

There was a plastic bag next to a deer carcass, a gruesome scene of fur and exposed ribs.

“But there’s a big plastic bag there,” Frier said as he sized up the situation. “I’m kind of anxious. I don’t know, maybe I can reach in there somehow. I want to get it, I can’t let that go.”

There is nothing unique about the plastic bags in this ravine. The Sierra Club estimates that Baltimore County residents use almost one million plastic bags daily. Frier said the vast majority of them are used once and thrown away.

“Some of it gets landfilled,” Frier said. “Some of it gets incinerated and we have the opportunity to breathe that. And much of it, the stuff that ends up on the side of the road ultimately will break down and will make its way into the waterways.”

Proponents of bag bans say it’s easier to get them passed locally, because the oil lobby is much stronger on the federal and state level. Petroleum is used to make plastic bags.

Attempts to ban plastic bags statewide have failed.

Back in November, Reisterstown resident Marie LaPorte told the county council it needs to take action.

“The citizens of Baltimore County need you to step up,” LaPorte told the council. “The days of business as usual must end now. Stop telling us that you care about the environment. Start showing us.”

There does appear to be interest by the majority of the council to do just that.

First District Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk said the council should consider a bag ban like Baltimore City’s or have stores charge you for each bag. In Howard County, each plastic bag costs you a nickel. Quirk believes a majority of county residents would support the council banning or restricting the bags.

Quirk said, “Are all of them going to like it? Probably not. But it’s just changing behavior. It’s like go to the grocery store, bring some reusable bags. It just makes sense.”

Quirk would like to see legislation in the next couple of months. So would Republican Councilman David Marks, who said the devil is in the details but a bag ban needs to be looked at. Marks said this is not a partisan issue, adding it is particularly important to people who live along the waterfront in Eastern Baltimore County.

“Those are very conservative areas, heavily Republican areas,” Marks said. “But they see the impact this type of pollution is having on our waterways.

Republican Councilman Wade Kach said he favors banning plastic bags.

Democratic Councilman Izzy Patoka said he is open to the idea of restricting them.

“I think we should look at that issue closely,” Patoka said. “I have been working closely for the past, perhaps six months with some of the stakeholders who are very concerned about the impact of plastic bags on the environment.”

Two other council members, Democrat Cathy Bevins and Republican Todd Crandell declined to weigh in on the issue. The Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce also declined to comment.

In a statement, County Executive Johnny Olszewski touted his administration’s environmental efforts, such as resuming glass recycling, expanding the county’s commitment to renewable energy and growing more trees. But he stopped short of endorsing restricting or banning plastic bags.

“Going forward, we will continue to pursue opportunities to improve our environment, and we are eager to engage with the County Council on any policies they might support in the furtherance of this critical goal,” Olszewski wrote.

Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Democrat, said he doesn’t see movement on a plastic bag ban any time soon. Jones said they need to take the time to hear from all sides.

Jones said, “Let’s talk to the retailers to find out, ok, what will this cost. Is there a cost? I don’t know.”

There is a cost, according to Zachary Taylor, the director of the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, which represents the industry and lobbies against bag bans. Taylor said poor people are hit with the cost of paying more for reusable bags or paying a fee.

“They’re the ones that are going to be spending a dollar or two every time they forget their bags,” Taylor said. “And that can add up pretty quickly, especially when food prices are skyrocketing.”

Taylor said the industry employs thousands of people and that plastic bags can be properly recycled.

Baltimore County’s recycling program doesn’t accept them because they jam the machinery.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2