Plastic bags given at retail stores and restaurants in Salisbury will become a thing of the past under a new ordinance that won preliminary approval from the City Council on Monday night.
The ban – set to take effect next July 1 -- would apply only to bags given at the point of sale, not to bags used in grocery stores for packing items such as produce, baked goods, seafood and meats. It also wouldn’t apply to wrappers and bags for newspapers, flowers and plants, dry cleaned items and ice, or to anything that comes packed in plastic.
It also would require retailers to charge 10 cents for paper bags as an incentive for shoppers to move toward reusable bags.
The ordinance provides for a six-month rollout to allow businesses to use up their existing stock before the ban takes effect.
While the ban has had wide support from residents and the business community, City Council President Jack Heath said he received a phone call from an unhappy resident.
“I did receive one negative response from a constituent of mine who suggested we’re taking peoples’ rights away and they suggested we ask people not to litter,” he said.
But Heath and other City Council members enthusiastically embraced the plan during a presentation by the Salisbury Sustainability Advisory Committee, also known as the “Green Team,” at a work session last week.
Councilwoman Michele Gregory said stores such as Sam’s Club and Aldi don’t provide bags, and customers don’t seem to mind.
“I don’t think this is going to be as big of a switch as people think it is,” she said. “We already see this in shops now.”
A ban also would cut down on the number of plastic bags that end up in landfills or as roadside litter. Heath said he saw four plastic bags tangled up in shrubbery between College Avenue and Carroll Street on his way to last week’s work session.
“I think this is a great move,” he said. “It’s obviously long overdue.”
City officials began exploring the possibility of a ban on plastic bags several months ago, and have since talked to residents and business owners to get their feedback, City Administrator Julia Glanz said during the council work session last week.
Only 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled, and they can live on Earth for 1,000 years before they break down, she said.
Other cities and counties in Maryland have adopted plastic bag bans including Howard and Montgomery counties, Baltimore City, Takoma Park, Chestertown and Westminster. Outside of Maryland, there are bans in Washington, D.C., and the entire state of Delaware.
In Talbot County, Easton recently adopted its own ordinance that will take place next April, said Mayor Jake Day.
Green Team members spoke to leaders in some of those jurisdictions, said Elise Trelegan, the committee’s chairwoman.
“A resounding finding of the interviews is that every leader described that the ban had been received positively, that the majority of their constituents were fine with or even supportive of the bag ban,” Trelegan said during the presentation. “Leaders also shared that they have no evidence of businesses moving outside of the city/county limits or people changing the stores in which they were shopping.”
Committee members also received feedback from Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce members and found eight out of 10 members supported the ban, she said.
Both Heath and Day stressed that the city will need to market the concept of a plastic bag ban in order for it to succeed.
“We’ve got to explain the purpose and the reason behind things to our public,” Day said.
A second reading of the ordinance and final approval are expected at the next City Council meeting on Nov. 28.