Yesterday, Baltimore City Councilman Bill Henry introduced the Comprehensive Bag Reduction Bill, which would end the distribution of plastic bags at retailers and charge a five-cent fee for non-plastic shopping bags available at stores. With the approval of this ban, Baltimore would join a long list of cities across the U.S. that have issued plastic bag bans of their own in an effort to cut down on single-use plastics and bolster more sustainable ways of shopping.
This proposal is a step in the right direction for cutting down on the city’s plastics pollution, which continually impacts Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, threatening its aquatic ecosystems and making it unsafe for swimming. An estimated 650,000 single-use plastic bags have been dredged from the harbor since 2015. At the press conference announcing the bill introduction, Councilmembers shared that complaints about litter, and specifically plastic bags, are one of the top complaints they receive.
Half a decade ago, the City Council managed to pass a plastic bag ban, but it was unfortunately vetoed by then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Before that, the City Council has tried 8 other times. However, this year, the council seems primed for success. Mayor Jack Young introduced a plastics ban when he was still City Council President, and current City Council President Brandon Scott is on board. Meanwhile, an impressive coalition of environmental and clean water advocacy groups, including Food & Water Watch, has gained more and more support.
Clean Water Matters in Baltimore
Equitable access to clean water is a hot topic in Baltimore, and the Water Accountability & Equity Act is awaiting a vote from City Council.
Not only would a plastic bag ban keep Baltimore’s communities and waterways free from harmful and unnecessary plastics pollution, but it would also push back against a fossil fuel industry working to justify fracking by turning oil and gas into single-use plastics. From the point of extraction to the pipeline to the refinery, this process harms the health and safety of communities in Maryland and beyond. It also imposes a heavy and unnecessary carbon footprint, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and raising average global temperatures at ruinous rates. Although the production of single-use plastics isn’t the whole equation, it certainly has a meaningful impact when we talk about climate change.
Right now, Food & Water Watch is working with a coalition of environmental organizations to oppose the buildout of an Appalachian petrochemical hub, parts of which borders Western Maryland. But the momentum of the movement for plastic bag bans sends a clear message to those who would let these petrochemical processes pollute air and water for the sake of profit: we don’t need your single-use plastics, and we don’t need you.
This Plastic Bag Ban Actually Considers Equity
The ban proposal has been drafted with an eye to equity: low-income shoppers will not have to pay the 5 cent fee for non-plastic bags. The hope, though, is that shoppers would remember to bring along their own reusable shopping bags, which are cheap and widely available.
The bill would also repeal the current plastic bags reduction program, in which businesses voluntarily keep track of how many plastic bags they’re distributing. However, an outright ban will be a far more effective solution than a voluntary reduction.
It’s unclear when the ban will be up for a vote, seeing as it still needs to have a hearing, and pass through the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee, Chaired by Councilman Eric Costello. But for the sake of our health, safety, and environment, we hope it happens soon. Plastic bags are polluting our communities and neighborhoods, suffocating our oceans and aquatic life, and fueling climate change. It’s time to #BanTheBag!