Frederick County Council members and the city of Frederick’s Board of Aldermen discussed Councilman Kai Hagen’s proposed single-use plastic ban at a joint meeting Wednesday night.
Hagen (D) told council members and aldermen about a work group that would probably be made up of six to 10 people. The group would look at the feasibility of a single-use plastic ban and related issues countywide, and complete its work by the fall or winter, he added.
The work group could include a representative from the Board of Aldermen, a council member and other sections of the community. Hagen said he would try to seat those who are skeptical about the proposed ban as well as supporters of it.
Several elected officials expressed support for the idea, including Councilman Jerry Donald (D). Donald described a time when he drove along the Golden Mile, and the number of plastic bags he saw discarded near the road.
“I was like, holy cow, there was more plastic on the trees than leaves,” Donald said.
One point Hagen made in the discussion is that a market exists for bags and other items to be made of other materials, such as cornstarch or hemp.
Alderman Ben MacShane, who previously discussed the issue with Hagen, said those alternative products exist, and that the county and city can look at other jurisdictions to see how bans or taxes on single-use plastic have worked.
“The alternative products exist, and we would not exactly be trailblazing,” MacShane said.
Some officials expressed skepticism regarding a ban. That included Alderman Roger Wilson, who said he researched Baltimore’s efforts to introduce a single-use plastic ban and how it had not been finalized yet.
Wilson added that a ban might adversely affect families on a fixed income.
Councilman Steve McKay (R) said the work group needs to not just look at a ban, but the broader issue of single-plastic use. Just implementing a ban would be bad public policy, he said.
McKay added that giving people incentives to recycle and reuse plastic bags might be a better approach — similar to bottle deposit programs used in other states.
Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak agreed with McKay that the work group needs a broader approach, and the need to incentivize the public to be environmentally conscious.
“It can’t just be a stick, it’s got to be a carrot,” she said, adding that city and county government need to better educate the public about what is recyclable and what is not.
Earlier in the conversation, Hagen said the work group should focus on the issue as a whole, not just a ban on plastic bags.
“My first thought, like anything, is how’s it working with other places. ... I would definitely not start with them assuming we’re only talking about plastic bags,” he said.
Councilman Phil Dacey (R) said he was skeptical of a proposed ban, saying it’s up to individuals if they want to use plastic bags. He added that they’re convenient for people, as some reuse them for shopping or to clean up after their pets.
Dacey added that it wasn’t right for the government to coerce people into changing their behavior. But MacShane partially disagreed, noting the impact that plastic is having on the environment.
“It may require some inconvenient changes. ... I think we can take some logical local steps,” MacShane said.
Some local business leaders said Wednesday they were receptive to a single-use plastic ban, be it on bags or other items. Bob Thompson, general manager of Common Market, said his business uses bags that are partially made of recyclable material. He said he is open to Hagen’s proposal.
“I guess I believe there’s so much plastic in the environment, and anything we do to reduce its use is a good thing,” Thompson said.
Michelle Schaffer, owner of the North Market Pop Shop in Frederick, said her business uses compostable material for everything but its hot dogs, which are still served or packaged in plastic.
She understands the concerns of those who reuse plastic bags, but added that reducing plastic use is a good move environmentally.
Alex Little, manager of the Food Lion supermarket in Crestwood Plaza, said his company has been moving toward greener alternatives, in part because of the rising cost of plastic versus other materials.
Little added, however, that roughly 50 to 60 percent of shoppers at that location walk to the store, and use plastic bags because they are convenient. But he added that he wasn’t opposed to a ban.
At County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer’s (D) request, Hagen will start gauging interest in the work group in the coming weeks.