The transition team for the capital's newly elected mayor, Josh Cohen, recommended looking at copying the fee of 5 cents per bag charged shoppers in Washington. That fee has been widely credited with curbing consumers' demand for disposable bags by 50 percent or more since it took effect Jan. 1. But McGowan said the Annapolis mayor has not taken a position on any plastic bag legislation.
Several legislators have introduced a bill to impose a fee on disposable bags statewide that would be similar to the District of Columbia's. But the Maryland bill faces opposition from merchants and manufacturers of plastic and paper bags, who contend that voluntary recycling efforts are more convenient for consumers and just as environmentally friendly, because they encourage the reuse of plastic. Henry, the chief proponent on Baltimore's council for bag fees, said the bill that advanced Tuesday was a "first step." It should give merchants and bag manufacturers a chance to prove that public education about the merits of recycling can alter consumer habits, he said, while gathering more information on whether it's making a dent in disposable bag usage.
"It seems like a fair start, and we hope it's successful for Baltimore City," agreed Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents the city's north-central neighborhoods. "If it's not, we have to come back and look at other options."
Ryan O'Doherty, spokesman for Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who had opposed a 25-cent fee or ban, said her staff was still reviewing the newly amended bag bill but saw nothing objectionable.
A few weeks ago, O'Doherty had said the mayor might be willing to go along with a smaller fee on disposable bags, like the district's nickel charge, but only if Baltimore's poorest residents were somehow exempted. But she's willing to go along with the council's new approach, her spokesman said.
"The mayor's always appreciated and encouraged the efforts of business to encourage recycling of bags," O'Doherty said. "That's something that can be done right away and is being done."
Plastic bag bill
•Supermarkets, groceries, convenience stores and restaurants can't offer plastic bags at checkout unless they enroll in city's "plastic bag reduction program."
•Participating merchants must: provide bins where shoppers can deposit plastic bags for recycling; post signs encouraging customers to bring their own reusable bags; offer reusable bags for sale.
•Merchants must report semiannually on plastic, paper and reusable bag activity.
•All other (nonfood) stores must post signs saying they'll only give out plastic carryout bags if a customer asks.
•Violators face fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 for multiple offenses.
•Program would begin Sept. 1. Businesses that sign up by Aug. 31 pay nothing; those that join later must pay $500.