Statewide Plastic Bag Ban Bill Advances in Maryland

Maryland lawmakers on Monday introduced a bill banning stores from providing plastic bags to customers starting in July 2022.

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Maryland lawmakers on Monday introduced a bill banning stores from providing plastic bags to customers starting in July 2022.

An iteration of this legislation passed the House and was defeated by the Senate Finance Committee last year, but it did not reach the Senate floor due to the abridged legislative session.

With an amendment of Del. Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s) who would allow orchard growers to provide plastic bags to customers for his fruits and vegetables, plastic bag reduction actsponsored by Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City) and Sen. Malcom Augustine (D-Prince George’s), left the House Economic Affairs Committee 16-7 Monday.

Some Republican lawmakers worried about a shortage of paper bags and argued that the bill would increase costs for small businesses and shift the extra costs of paper bags onto customers. Although larger retail stores could afford the cost, smaller ones would have a harder time, they said.

“It puts little guys and little businesswomen at a further disadvantage compared to Walmarts around the world,” Del said Monday. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert) at the House Economic Affairs Committee. “For the little guys, that’s a big deal.”

But Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) argued that customers are already paying for the bags now. Grocers would only have to buy paper bags instead of plastic bags and that will also be factored into their running costs, she said.

Stores have already adapted to this change, as Montgomery County, Howard County, the City of Baltimore, Takoma Park, Chestertown and Westminster have all passed legislation banning the sale of plastic bags or requiring stores to charge costs for them.

“The biggest thing we see is that people bring their own bags, or they just don’t mindlessly pick up a bag – if they can put it under their arm, they do,” Del said. Courtney Watson (D-Howard). “It’s an environmental initiative. Our businesses have been able to fit into all areas of the county, large and small. And I think it’s way too time to do that.

However, Mayor Brandon Scott pushed back the City of Baltimore’s ban on single-use plastic until July due to the economic hardship businesses were facing from the pandemic. It was originally due to come into force in January.

Maryland generates nearly 12 million tons of solid waste annually and about 13% comes from plastics, including plastic bags, Lierman said during the bill’s hearing in January. And plastic bags aren’t accepted as recyclables by any county because they often clog recycling machines and create a safety hazard.

Since the pandemic and increased shopping at restaurants and grocery stores, there has been a 30% increase in plastic waste in 2020, Lierman said.

Plastic bags either end up in landfills, where they can take hundreds of years to degrade, or they float away, clogging waterways, increasing litter and harming wildlife.

Taxpayers are the ones who must pay the cost of cleaning up plastic bag waste, said Adam Ortiz, director of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection. In addition, plastic is a pollutant just like nitrogen or phosphorus and “unlike other pollutants, we know exactly where [plastic bags] come, and we can stop it,” he continued.

If retailers do not comply with Lierman’s bill, they will first receive a warning and then a fine of up to $500 for each sale involving plastic bags. However, counties could not impose more than one penalty per week.

Stores could still charge fees on paper bags under the measure, giving people more incentive to change their habits and bring reusable bags to grocery stores and retail stores, lawmakers said.

Already, eight other states have banned the sale of plastic bags and Maryland could be the ninth under this measure.

Bryce K. Locke