ANNAPOLIS — The Rev. Cheryl Bryant said her city of Baltimore has begun to look much cleaner after its ban on plastic bags last year.
That’s why she supports a bill sponsored by Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-District 47) of Cheverly calling for a statewide ban on plastic carryout bags from all stores.
“I understand that God has placed mankind on this Earth to be good stewards of our environment. This is a job that we can’t take lightly,” Bryant said Thursday during a public hearing before the Senate Finance Committee in Annapolis. “They hang from our trees like grotesque ornaments. On windy days, they fly over our heads like ghostly figurines. Nobody wants these bags.”
Not all plastics would go away. According to the legislation, the ban would be for “point of sale purchases,” but not for packaging items such as fruit, frozen foods, dry-cleaned clothes or potted plants.
Stores would be required to charge at least 10 cents for the sale of every durable carryout bag, though the money would remain with the businesses.
All businesses that don’t comply with the law would be charged a $500 fine for each violation.
Augustine conducted a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of plastic bags picked up off the ground in Prince George’s County and a percentage of the majority of customers who don’t use disposable bags in stores such as Aldi.
The bill also proposes forming a 16-member work group to provide recommendations by Dec. 1 to the governor and General Assembly on items such as:
• Evaluating current state and municipal policies and requirements for the management of single–use products.
• Assessing how to reduce the environmental impact of single–use products.
• Evaluating potential economic impact on low-income residents.
The group would include at least four state lawmakers, two representatives of the solid waste management industry, a resident 30 or younger who works or volunteers in a community to reduce waste, and a representative of the Maryland Retailers Association.
If approved by the legislator, Maryland would become the ninth state in the nation to ban plastic carryout bags.
Augustine stressed that the 10-cent implementation is not a fee, rather “a price floor of 10 cents.”
“We’re trying to change behavior,” he said. “This is trying to get away from the throwaway culture that we have when people are just quickly throwing bags all over the place.”
Alexandra DySard, environmental and partnership manager for MOM’s Organic Market, said the business banned plastic bags 15 years ago.
“[Plastic bags] are not recyclable,” she said. “There are no public works departments, no recycling municipalities, or curbside recycling programs that accept this time and there’s no monetary value for them.”
One major stipulation would enforce the state law and override any of county plastic-ban programs.
For instance, Montgomery County would lose about $2.5 million annually with the elimination of its 5-cent bag law, which was instituted in January 2012.
Adam Ortiz, director of Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection, said the county uses money for programs such as anti-litter campaigns, restoration and outreach grants, the installation of 140 pet waste stations in 43 communities and dozens of markers and art projects.
Alex Butler of the Maryland Association of Counties asked for several amendments, include designating half of the monies collected from 10-cent durable-bag charge for the counties to use for water quality projects, litter reduction and providing reusable bags for residents.
At least six people outright disagree with the measure.
Restaurateurs and advocates said food products such as crabs are sold with both paper and plastic bags. In addition, several jurisdictions in the state make exemptions for packaging in food service.
“The bag fee will change behavior,” said Eric King of Sea King Seafood Market and Crab House in Ellicott City. “People are going to be using reusable bags and I don’t think that’s very sanitary, using the bags for multiple things.”
Minority Whip Stephen Hersey Jr., member of the Finance Committee, asked environmental advocates who agree with the 10-cent measure if they would support Montgomery County possibly losing $2.5 million.
“Our objective is to get plastic out of the environment,” replied Sydney Jacobs of the Maryland Sierra Club.