Md. retailers concerned pandemic causes issues for proposed statewide plastic bag ban

While some other states are passing laws and finding eco-friendly alternatives to reduce plastic waste, South Dakota is moving in the opposite direction. Plastic bags in use at New World supermarket in New Lynn on June 12, 2018 in New Zealand.(Getty Images/Fiona Goodall)
Maryland is currently considering legislation that would ban single-use plastic bags. But some say the pandemic is complicating things.

Retailers in Maryland say a nationwide shortage of paper bags could make banning plastic bags difficult.

Some manufacturers have switched from making paper bags to making personal protective equipment since the pandemic.

“They’re not capable of producing either paper or reusable bags at a level that we’re going to need to get to here really quickly,” said Cailey Locklair, president of the Maryland Retailers Association.

“We just didn’t really have the infrastructure to all of a sudden handle laws across the country that would ban plastic and then move everybody back toward paper.”

Locklair said she agrees a plastic bag ban is necessary for the environment but wants retailers to be allowed to charge for paper bags. On top of the supply issue, she said some stores are concerned about the cleanliness of reusable bags.

“Having that fee in place is a deterrent. And it helps consumers get in that habit of bringing their own bags in, but again, during COVID, that is not something that employees or consumers feel comfortable with,” Locklair said.

She also wants to see statewide preemption in the legislation, so all of Maryland has to follow the same rules.

In Maryland, there are six different localities with different bag laws, Locklair said.

Howard County’s bag tax charging 5 cents per plastic bag went into effect in October.

A proposal to suspend the 5-cent tax on plastic and paper bags in Montgomery County as a way to curb the spread of coronavirus was nixed in April.

Baltimore City’s ban on plastic bags was delayed because of the pandemic.

Locklair said paper bags, in general, have a lot of logistical issues that need to be solved.

“Paper takes up a lot more room than plastic, so it takes a lot more to transport it, and then the other thing is once it becomes soiled in any way, it cannot be recycled,” Locklair said. “You have a manufacturing issue; you have COVID concerns; you have a supply issue. So that’s why we’re just kind of back to this is not the right time to be doing this.”

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Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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