City of Frederick officials are discussing banning or taxing most plastic bags to reduce pollution and waste. They need to think carefully about how to proceed, because the matter is not as simple as it seems at first glance.
City aldermen last week heard a presentation from two environmental activists who have called for legislation to regulate single-use plastic bags. Other counties and municipalities in Maryland have already done so.
Ten states followed the lead of California, which enacted a statewide ban on bags in large retail stores in 2014, either banning bags outright or imposing a fee for their usage.
New York passed a ban in 2019. Even before it took effect, grocery chain Wegmans, headquartered in Rochester, New York, began phasing out plastic bags in its stores, wherever they are. are found. The North Side store in Frederick will eliminate plastic bags at the end of July. Shoppers will need to bring their own reusable bags or use paper bags.
Wegmans said it incentivizes shoppers to choose reusable bags by charging 5 cents per paper bag. The money, which totaled $1.7 million last year, will be donated to a local food bank and the United Way.
The company said that in stores where plastic bags have been eliminated, paper bags are used for 20-25% of transactions, while the remaining 75-80% use reusable bags or no bags at all. Before the ban, the company used 345 million plastic bags each year.
Plastic in all its forms is a huge pollution problem all over the world. Boston’s Conservation Law Foundation, which advocates for a ban on plastic bags and other forms of single-use plastic, said in 2020:
“The list of studies and reports on the dangers of plastic seems to be growing by the day – our plastic problem has clearly become a crisis.”
But the role plastic shopping bags play in aggravating the pollution problem has been debated in scientific circles for several years. Some studies have argued that the production of the bags has less impact on the environment than paper bags.
The foundation acknowledged the issues but said: “While bag bans alone won’t solve the plastic crisis, they are helping to change plastic consumption habits and prompt consumers and retailers to be more open to plastics.” alternatives…
“Banning single-use plastic bags is a small but essential first step in tackling the plastic crisis.”
Kerri Hesley, a member of the Sierra Club Catoctin Group, which is advocating for a ban in Frederick, told the aldermen: “We know plastic bag legislation is helping to change consumer behavior and reduce waste.
Some jurisdictions require stores to charge for plastic bags, while others ban them outright, she said.
Several aldermen expressed general support for the action, although Alderman Kelly Russell said they should be careful how they define what a reusable bag is.
This is one of the many questions that the aldermen will have to consider. They should meet with business leaders and owners to discuss the details of any legislation, as it could affect restaurants, retail stores, grocery stores and many more, and in different ways.
Grocery shoppers, for example, often buy sturdy bags to be used repeatedly for months or years. But few people would be likely to bring their own bags to the restaurant when buying takeout.
Alderman Ben MacShane said the city should ensure there is a supply of affordable reusable bags for low-income residents, another valid consideration.
Without careful study, we tend to believe that banning the use of bags would be more effective than charging a small fee for their use, as has been the policy in Montgomery County and elsewhere. When you’re paying $100 for groceries, adding 25 cents to get five bags doesn’t seem like enough to change behavior.
The Wegmans model — banning plastic and gently steering customers to reusable bags for a nominal fee — seems like the best alternative if city leaders want to wean the public off plastic bags.