This coming Monday, the Baltimore City Council will vote on a bill that would require city businesses to charge a ten cent fee on all bags (paper or plastic) provided by retail establishments at point of sale. If passed, Baltimore City will join the ranks of Washington D.C. and Montgomery County in trying to use economic incentives to decrease litter and promote the use of reusable bags. These laws, which took effect in 2010 and 2012 respectively, have been successful in substantially reducing the number of single-use bags distributed at retail stores in those districts. In fact, bag pollution in DC neighborhoods has been reduced by more than two-thirds!
Want to make this important environmental step a reality for Baltimore? Here's how YOU can help:
- Tell your Baltimore City Council member that you care about out city and our wildlife and you support council bill 13-0241.
- Make bringing reusable bags with you as you shop a routine!
There is no denying that plastic bag pollution is a real problem in our city. Discarded bags are almost always visible -stuck in tree branches and floating along our harbor, streams and rivers. They can clog storm drain inlets and cause localized flooding and the city spends millions of dollars each year cleaning up bags and other litter.
They are also often seen being used as building material in bird nests and pose a threat to aquatic predators that mistake them as food. Plastic pollution in our environment and waterways is well documented but its effects on wildlife are still being studied. In one recent study, more than 50 percent of the sea turtles stranded on a beach in Texas, in a two-year period, contained traces of debris in their digestive tract – 65 percent of those animals had ingested plastic bags.
Our own Animal Rescue team has cared for animals that have ingested plastic bags, and while the deleterious effects of plastic digestion by animals may be obvious, the chronic effects of toxic chemicals found within these plastics and ingestion of degraded plastic (or microplastics) is just beginning to be characterized.
Paper bags are also being included in this legislation because they too require a significant amount of resources to manufacture and ship and ignoring this would be counterproductive to the intent of the bill.
It is important to remember that the intent of this bill is not to penalize our most vulnerable citizens by imposing another fee they will struggle to pay. In fact, there are several exemptions that take into account the type of purchases and participation in public assistance programs. We simply can no longer ignore the true cost of favoring single-use products like plastic and paper bags within the system. These items are not free. There is a cost for their resource extraction, manufacture and shipping. If they end up as litter, there is a cost to remove them from our waterways, city streets and storm drains – and when we aren’t able to do that, there is a cost to wildlife.