Residents to Maryland General Assembly: 
Get plastic bags out of our communities

FEBRUARY 12, 2015 — A bill introduced this week in the Maryland General Assembly would ban disposable plastic bags across the state, reducing litter and slashing overhead costs for retailers.

At a briefing today sponsored by nonprofit organization Trash Free Maryland, bill sponsor Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-District 46) described the bill as a win for communities, a win for our waterways, a win for retailers, and a win for local governments.

“If passed, this bill will result in cleaner neighborhoods and waterways throughout our state, as well as long-term decreased overhead expenses for our retailers,” added Lierman. “In other words, it is one of those rare win-win opportunities, and I am hopeful that the legislature and Governor will take action to pass this legislation this year.”

The bill, titled the Community Cleanup and Greening Act (HB551 and SB620), would prohibit retailers from giving out plastic bags at checkout, with exceptions for meats, produce, and limited other items. Retailers would also be required to charge 10 cents for each paper bag distributed at checkout, incentivizing shoppers to use reusable bags. Retailers would keep 5 to 7 cents of the charge, with the remainder returning to counties for local programs to reduce trash pollution, distribute free reusable bags, and improve access to fresh foods.

Baltimore residents at the briefing spoke of bags and other litter blighting their neighborhoods around Patterson Park and East Baltimore, diminishing a sense of community pride.

Kim Wiggins is the green coordinator for the Patterson Park neighborhood. She observed that other greening projects are made more difficult by litter in the community.

Cheryl Bryant counted 532 plastic bags on her walk from her home to William Paca Elementary School, where she volunteers. She took some of the students on a field trip to the Prince George’s County recycling center where they learned that, like Baltimore City, Prince George’s does not accept plastic bags at curbside. “Why do we expect people to take their groceries home in these bags?” she wondered.

Rashawn Smith from East Baltimore said of his time working at a grocery store, “I saw bags were a major cost. People use way too many of them, and they are unnecessary. Why do you need a bag for a bag of chips, when it comes in a bag? What are you going to do with it? You’re going to throw it away.”

Steve Raabe of OpinionWorks, an independent research firm based in Annapolis, spoke about the findings of a 2013 DC Department of the Environment survey of 177 businesses. The survey found that half of business owners reported saving money on bags, and only 8% of business owners oppose the bill.

“Litter is increasingly visible along many of our roads. The vast majority of the litter is plastic bags or plastic wrappings,” said Senator Karen Montgomery (D-District 14), the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate. “This bill will also relieve the merchants of the cost of the paper bags they can offer since the charge covers that expense. Let’s clean up all our neighborhoods and our waterways. “

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