City Council making real progress on plastic bags

February 25, 2010

As a Baltimore City resident and environmental law student at the University of Maryland School of Law, I was pleased to see the attention brought to the Baltimore City Council's current efforts to curb waste from discarded plastic bags ("Besieged by Bags," Feb. 22). However, I do not agree with the criticism of the council's efforts without recognition of their ongoing dedication to this critical issue.

Given the deliberation of two separate ordinances which would reduce plastic bag pollution (the 25-cent fee and a flat ban) and their prior reintroductions, it is clear that neither of these proposals has been put forth without real consideration. While I agree with the author that no one should have to pay 25 cents for a plastic bag, my reasoning differs: No one should have to have a plastic bag. Twenty-five cents is a fee that that is significant enough to impart a real change in consumer behavior and encourages consumers to avoid the use of plastic bags while maintaining their availability. The substantial fee which the author correctly assumes could financially impact consumers can be simply avoided if consumers bring their own reusable bag when shopping.

It can hardly be said that in the last three years the council has failed to make headway on the issue of plastic bags; to the contrary, it adopted a resolution on Monday night calling for the Department of Public Works to conduct a study on the waste generated by these bags. Rather than condemning the council's failure to pass ordinances in prior years, we should applaud them for their commitment to this critical issue and offer assistance to ensure that 2010 is the last time this initiative faces a vote. With 90 billion plastic bags discarded as trash each year in the U.S. (second only to cigarette butts as the most prolific type of oceanic debris) and the United Nations calling for a global ban, we should support the ongoing efforts by Councilmen Bill Henry and James Kraft in Baltimore, as well as Del. Alfred Carr in the General Assembly through actions such as writing letters of support, seeking donations of reusable bags for those communities which may be financially impacted and committing to cut out the use of plastic bags in our own lives. Concerns about the proposed ordinances can also be voiced directly to the Judicial and Legislative Investigations Committee of the City Council during their hearing on these bills on March 4 at 9 a.m. in City Hall.

Finally, while I agree that Washington D.C. provides as an excellent model for the imposition of plastic bag regulations and have nothing but praise for their remarkable accomplishment of a 50 percent reduction in this type of waste, I do not share the sentiment that there is no reason that Baltimore cannot match this achievement. Instead, there is no reason that Baltimore cannot surpass this accomplishment, achieving a greater reduction in waste and serving as an example to other cities such as New York and Philadelphia, which have faced opposition in similar efforts.

Megan Mueller, Baltimore

The writer is a third-year student in the environmental certificate program at the University of Maryland School of Law.

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