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#BmoreBagSmart: Baltimore’s Disposable Bag Bill

This fall, the Baltimore City Council will be considering a bill that will place a 5-cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags.

Anyone who lives in Baltimore knows that litter is a serious problem. One of the most prominent type of trash seen in our neighborhoods, trees, and floating in the Baltimore Harbor, is plastic bags.

Community cleanups and water wheels are a good end-of-pipe solution, however the best way to combat this litter is to stop it from happening in the first place. With less trash in our streets and waters, the quality-of-life in our communities increases greatly!

Plastic bags caught on branches at the outfall of Gwynns Run near Carroll Park.
Plastic bags caught on branches at the outfall of Gwynns Run near Carroll Park in Baltimore, MD.

The intent of the bag bill is to encourage the use of reusable bags instead of disposable. The fewer disposable bags that leave stores, the fewer that will end up blowing around our streets, parks and waterways.

This law have already been successful in other areas of the country. For example, the four-year-old tax on disposable bags in Washington, D.C. has lead to a 60 percent drop in household bag use and many fewer plastic bags littering city streets.

“Since the law took effect in 2010, District businesses have seen a dramatic reduction in bag usage and environmental cleanup groups are reporting fewer bags polluting D.C. waterways,” a city release stated.

Reusable bags not only benefit our environment but they are also much more durable, and will not rip easily like plastic bags tend to do.

To ensure that the cost of reusable bags does not become a financial burden, Baltimore has committed to providing residents with free reusable bags. Get your free reusable bag at one of our International Coastal Cleanup locations on Saturday, September 20th.

Should someone pay the 5-cent fee to purchase disposable plastic or paper bags at a store, the money collected will go into a program administered by the Office of Sustainability. The program will fund the purchase of additional free reusable bags for residents, as well as provide trash cleanup for Baltimore neighborhoods.

If no one pays the fee, it means that everyone is using reusable bags and the law has worked absolutely perfectly. While this is an unlikely scenario, the law will still result in a huge reduction in trash and litter and much cleaner communities.

So what can you do to be more bag smart?

  • First, you can start using reusable bags. Get into the habit of bringing a bag with you or using your backpack or purse to carry purchases. Doing so will help to start cleaning up your community immediately.
  • In order to get others to do the same, it is important to get this bill passed. Call or email your city council member and tell them that reducing litter and trash in your community is important to you and to vote “yes!” on this bill. If you don’t know who your city council representative is, you can look that information up here.
  • Share your pictures of yourself being bag smart on social media. Take pictures of yourself (and friends and family, too!) cleaning up your neighborhood or using your reusable bag on a shopping trip and put them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the hashtag:#BmoreBagSmart. For added effect, be sure to mention your city council member.
  • Get your free reusable bag when you participate in one of our International Coastal Cleanup events on Saturday, September 20th. Free reusable bags will be given away to anyone that comes, and there will be an opportunity for you to let your city council representative know that you support the Baltimore City Reusable Bag Bill! This will be a great opportunity to do something tangible to start cleaning up your neighborhood!

John Berard is the Senior Manager for Advocacy and Public Policy here at Blue Water Baltimore. Feel free to email him or follow him on Twitter to learn more on this topic.

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