By KENNETH R. FLETCHER, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Local business owners rallied Thursday in support of a city alderman's first-in-the-nation proposal to ban plastic shopping bags in Annapolis.
While San Francisco in March enacted a ban that affects large supermarkets and drug stores, Annapolis would be the first government in the nation to ban plastic bags at all retail establishments if the city council approves the measure Nov. 19.
"About 100 billion plastic bags are distributed in the United States every year," said Annapolis Alderman Sam Shropshire, sponsor of the measure. "Of those, 99 billion end up in landfills or the environment."
Supporters say plastic bags are a source of litter, take too long to decompose, are not recycled as easily as paper bags and kill wildlife that eat them.
But critics argued that paper bags are not necessarily better for the environment, and said there are better ways than a ban to reduce litter.
"There are other ways to skin this cat," said Jeffrie Zellmer, legislative director for the Maryland Retailer's Association.
The association advocates better enforcement of litter laws and anti-littering education campaigns instead of a ban.
Zellmer also said that plastic bags cost retailers 1 to 2 cents, while paper bags cost 6 to 8 cents. He said most Annapolis businesses oppose the ordinance.
But Shropshire said 24 Annapolis businesses now support the plastic bag ban. Backed Thursday by 11 supporters from local businesses and the Sierra Club, Shropshire stood in a cold rain by the Annapolis City Dock clutching colorful reusable tote bags that he advocated as an alternative to disposable plastic bags.
He said that the city would soon be handing out thousands of red reusable bags emblazoned with an "Annapolis Recycles" logo. Besides banning plastic, his ordinance would only let stores use 100 percent recycled paper bags for those customers who do not provide reusable bags.
But Zellmer said carrying tote bags might be an inconvenience for consumers, and that paper bags may fall apart in the rain.
Giant Food, which has one Annapolis grocery that would be affected, said customers should decide which bags to use. More than 90 percent of Giant shoppers request plastic bags, said spokesman Barry Scher.
Safeway, which also has an Annapolis store, also believes "in a consumer's right to choose," said spokesman Greg Ten Eyck.
"There's a debate between plastic versus paper as to which is more environmentally friendly. It's a toss-up," Ten Eyck said, adding that paper bags take up seven times more space than plastic, meaning more trucks burning fuel.
Giant and Safeway offer recycling dropoffs at stores that turn plastic bags into plastic decking and other building materials. The groceries also sell reusable tote bags.
The Annapolis Whole Foods Market does not support a ban on plastic bags, but it does advocate reusable bags, said spokeswoman Sarah Kenney. She said the store stopped using plastic bags in July in response to Shropshire's proposal.
Kenney said that reusable bag use is a win-win situation, saving the store money in bag costs and letting the customer reduce waste. Reusable bag use at Whole Foods has doubled in the last year and a half, she said.
"In a good two years it's probably going to be an anomaly that you are going to be asked paper or plastic," as reusable bags become the norm, Kenney said.
David Prosten, chairman of the Anne Arundel chapter of the Sierra Club, said that while plastic bags are "very low on the scale of pollutants" of the Chesapeake, a ban would be a small step in the right direction.
"If we can't do this kind of change then there's not much hope," Prosten said.