Baltimore Rolls Out a New Voluntary Ban on Plastic Bags

The Sun’s B’More Green has an article today about Baltimore’s new program, where stores, in essence, voluntarily ban plastic bags. Stores that wish to continue distributing single-use plastic bags must be registered with the city, ask each customer if they want a bag (rather than automatically using one), and offer recycling of bags on location. Enforcement is handled by city health inspectors, since they are already at the stores and eateries for food regulation requirements.

It sounds pretty convoluted, but I’m curious to see if this works. China has a poorly enforced ban on plastic bags that actually has reduced use by upwards of 50%. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that simple peer pressure (i.e., the checker asking if a customer wants a bag) is surprisingly effective in reducing waste. But so far about a third of Baltimore’s retailers–likely mostly large chains–have declared that they like single-use plastic, which is discouraging when so many alternatives are available. And the rollout of this program has not been smooth:

City officials didn’t get the online registration system set up until shortly before the ordinance was to take effect on Sept. 1, and many merchants complained they hadn’t been able to log in so they could legally keep giving out plastic bags. Others said they simply didn’t know anything about what they were supposed to do. An embarrassed City Council was forced to delay the law’s startup.

At any rate, hopefully it’s a start. And if it doesn’t accomplish the goals of the Office of Sustainability, hopefully they’ll pursue stronger, more effective solutions.

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