A bill to ban plastic carryout bags at certain stores and restaurants in Baltimore County beginning Nov. 1 was passed by the Baltimore County Council Monday night.
Paper carryout bags or reusable carryout bags are still allowed, but a customer will be charged at least five cents per bag.
The bill’s co-sponsors — Councilmen Izzy Patoka, David Marks and Mike Ertel — argued at the council meeting that plastic bags harm the environment, and that the bill would help reduce plastic pollution.
“The point of this bill is to reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in our trees, in our waterways, in our landfills,” Ertel said, pointing out that almost 33 million plastic bags are used each year in Baltimore County.
The fee, he emphasized, is not a tax. Retailers do not have to provide the county with a portion of the money they receive from providing paper or reusable bags. Rather, the fee is meant to offset costs for retailers.
“We just feel that it’s time to do this in Baltimore County,” Ertel said. “It can be a hassle at times, but we all need to pitch in to make sure we are doing what we need to do for our children and our grandchildren.”
Baltimore City has a similar ban, which began October 2021, for plastic checkout bags under four mils thick in supermarkets and other stores, with a five cent charge for paper bags, compostable bags, and plastic bags that are thicker than four mils. In Montgomery and Howard Counties, retailers are allowed to provide plastic bags, but are required to charge a five cent fee for them.
Councilman Todd Crandell and Councilman Julian Jones both opposed the bill. At the beginning of the meeting, Crandell called it a “complete government overreach” into the relationship between consumers and establishments, and proposed amendments including one that would make the charge optional and allow retailers to choose how much they charged their customers. The amendments did not pass. Jones also argued Monday that a retailer should not be forced to charge customers for bags.
The ban will apply to “retail establishments,” according to the bill, defined as a “store, a food service facility, or any other establishment that provides bags to its customers as a result of the sale of a product.”
Amendments to the bill passed that would allow smaller establishments that have three or fewer physical locations, or are not part of a franchise corporation, among other requirements, to be exempt from the ban. Though those smaller establishments, according to the amendment, cannot include convenient stores, fuel stations with convenient stores or liquor stores. Another amendment also exempted farmers markets from the ban.
Under a previous version of the bill, people receiving SNAP benefits or “any other food coupons, instruments or vouchers issued under federal or State food assistance programs” would not be charged, but the Council voted to pass an amendment Monday night to strike that from the bill.
Businesses that do not adhere to the ban can be fined up to $500, if it is first issued a written notice and fails to correct the violation within seven days, according to the bill.
There will be a grace period for the first 90 days after the ban begins with no penalties allowed during that time.