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Plastic bag ban approved by Baltimore County Council, here's what to know before you shop

John Lee
Baltimore County Council proposed banning most single-use plastic bags in retailer locations across the county this year.

The Baltimore County Council Monday night approved a ban on single-use plastic bags to cut down on them littering roadways, fouling waterways and filling up landfills.

The vote was a 5-2 split, with Democratic Council Chairman Julian Jones and Republican Councilman Todd Crandell voting against the legislation.

Both objected to a provision in the legislation requiring businesses to charge people for paper bags if they don’t bring their own reusable bags.

“All that we’re going to do is establish a tax on consumers across Baltimore County,” Crandell said.

Baltimore County residents use almost 1 million plastic bags each day collectively in a region with roughly 850,000 people, according to the Greater Baltimore Group of the Sierra Club. Supporters consider the legislation introduced in early January a step forward as environmental stewards, especially since Baltimore City already banned most single-use plastic bags in recent years. Those opposed to the new law slated to take effect in November say it’s just a regressive tax on consumers.

But proponents took issue with calling it a tax.

“It’s not a tax,” said District 2 Councilman Izzy Patoka, a Democrat and the bill’s sponsor. “This bill is about choice. This is the time when we have a choice when we go shopping.”

The County Council agreed to change the legislation, cutting in half how much retailers will have to charge for bags, from at least 10 cents each to a nickel.

The council considered nearly a dozen amendments to the legislation.

Members killed a provision in the bill that would have given free paper bags to people who receive food benefits such as from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Baltimore County Council voted to ban most single-use plastic bags for retailers across the county.

District 3 Republican Councilman Wade Kach, said he was offended by that part of the legislation. Kach said everyone should be treated the same.

“We all are concerned about the environment,” said Kach. “I know people who are on one of these programs are as concerned as I am and everybody on this.”

Council members also amended the bill to establish a 90 day grace period after the legislation takes effect Nov. 1. Through January 2024, there would be no penalties for not complying.

The council agreed to another amendment that exempts “mom and pop stores” from the plastic bag ban. That’s defined as stores that are local with fewer than four locations and not a franchise.

Patoka said larger stores can better afford a switch to paper bags than a small business.

“The paper bags can be very expensive,” said Patoka.

Convenience stores and liquor stores do not fall under the “mom and pop” exemption.

Support for the legislation was bipartisan, with Republicans Kach and David Marks joining Democrats Patoka, Mike Ertel and Pat Young in passing the plastic bag ban.

Marks noted that the Eastern Sanitary Landfill in White Marsh is quickly filling up.

“If you are fiscally conservative, wouldn’t you want to cut back on garbage so we don’t have to ship that material out of state?” Marks asked.

Patoka said, “Plastic bags have been a menace on our environment for many many years, and now we’re going to address that issue.”

In a statement after the vote, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said his administration will carefully review the amended bill “and will continue to take meaningful action to prevent plastic bags from littering our trees, waterways, and neighborhoods and build a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable community.”

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