Last Thursday Delegate Mary Washington (D-District 43, Baltimore City) introduced the Community Cleanup and Greening Act in the House of Delegates of the Maryland General Assembly. Senator Brian Frosh (D-District 16, Montgomery County) introduced the same bill in the Senate on February 2.
The Community Cleanup and Greening Act aims to reduce litter in Maryland’s neighborhoods and environment by imposing a five-cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags. One to two cents stays with the retailer. The remaining proceeds will be split three ways: to purchase and distribute free reusable bags to low-income and elderly residents; for counties to apply to water quality improvement projects; and for the Chesapeake Bay Trust to administer as environmental restoration grants.
“A bag fee can have a substantial impact on litter, because it encourages shoppers to use reusable bags,” said Julie Lawson, Organizer of the Trash Free Maryland Alliance. “If the program never collects a nickel, because everyone switches to reusables, we will have achieved our goal.”
The legislation is modeled on successful programs in place in Washington, DC and Montgomery County. In the two years since the implementation of the Anacostia River Cleanup & Protection Act, 75 percent of DC residents say they have reduced their use of plastic bags, leading to reduced costs for retailers and fewer bags picked up at river cleanup events. Proceeds of the fee have been used as grants for green businesses and nonprofit organizations working to restore the Anacostia River, as well as for distributing thousands of reusable bags to those in need.
“There is no such thing as a free bag,” said Laurie Schwartz, Executive Director of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore. “Retailers could see significant cost savings as they will not have to buy as many bags to then give away. Even a small mom-and-pop shop might save over $1,000 a year.”
“Litter brings down the quality of life for residents,” added Halle Van der Gaag, Executive Director of Blue Water Baltimore. “It is not only visually ugly but contaminates our waterways. Baltimore City spends more than $10 million each year to clean it up, so preventing it in the first place is more sustainable in the long-term.”
The Community Cleanup & Greening Act, SB511, will be heard by the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 28. The hearing on HB1247 has not yet been scheduled.