Baltimore considers plastic bag ban

February 16, 2010|By Julie Scharper | Baltimore Sun reporter

Plastic shopping bags snarl drainage grates, clog waterways and tangle up in trees, presenting environmental and aesthetic challenges.

For three years, Baltimore City Council members have been trying to ban them or discourage their use, but those attempts seem almost as hard to manage as the bags themselves.

On Monday, the council's legislative and investigative committee again took up the issue at a work session, discussing an outright ban and proposed fees.

Councilman James Kraft, whose 2007 bill to ban the bags was voted down, is again pushing similar legislation. Retailers would be able to distribute recyclable paper bags and sell reusable bags, but they would be fined for giving out disposable plastic bags under the measure.

A similar ban has been in effect in San Francisco since 2007.

But Councilman Bill Henry has an eye on Washington D.C., which implemented a 5 cent per bag fee at the beginning of the year. He has proposed a 25 cent fee on both paper and plastic bags.

As a group of lobbyists representing paper and plastic bag retailers shuffled through folders of notes, Kraft, Henry and Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke -- all members of the committee -- discussed the logistics of collecting the fee from retailers. They are contemplating charging the fee on a quarterly basis and imposing a additional and interest for late payments.

While the fee is intended to encourage the use of reusable totes, many have complained that it would be an unfair burden during already tight financial times. At a hearing on the issue during the summer, Baltimore NAACP President Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham Sr. said the fee would "punish" the city's poor.

The fee would cost the city about $85,000 to implement and could generate from $1.6 to $6.4 million in revenues for the city, according to the city's finance department.

A committee vote on the issue was postponed until March 16 because several retailers' lobbyists were unable to attend yesterday's session.

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