Christopher Pennix (l) and Tracey Hawes, both seen outside of the Charles Village Safewa.

By J. K. Schmid
Special to the AFRO

The Baltimore citywide plastic bag ban went into effect Oct. 1.

The ban targets single-use plastic bags, but the burdens of the ban fall on Baltimore residents.

From City Hall, the bill’s optics and outlook look promising.

Baltimore’s trash-skimming boat fleet counts over 800,000 plastic bags pulled from the inner harbor.

These bags can be seen everywhere in the city, hanging from trees and blocking storm drains. They ultimately wind up in the bay, killing marine life and dissolving in seawater and sunlight, ultimately, returning, settling into, and binding to our bodies.

These are the immediate and present risks.

Plastic bags are also a petroleum product, meaning their manufacture also contributes to climate change. Sea rise, more frequent, hotter, wetter storms and surging seas are also very real threats to Baltimore’s future.

But these lofty, high-minded, far-sighted ambitions aren’t being realized on the ground.

The AFRO visited the Safeway in Charles Village on Oct. 4, to see how the bag ban was playing out on the ground.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Tracey Hawkes told the AFRO, carrying a gallon of milk in one hand, and a paper bag of cereal in the other. “I had to pay for this bag. I think it was 10 cents. The first one broke, they’re so cheap, they tear up. They’re tearing, all they do is tear.”

Tracey Hawes, outside Charles Village Safeway

The bill mandates that retailers or “dealers” charge five to 10 cents for each alternative bag.

“People are uncomfortable with it,” Hawkes said, resettling the bag into the crook of her arm. “Look, that’s not comfortable, all of this is uncomfortable. It’s very uncomfortable.”

Ms. Hawkes came to Safeway on her way back from her job at Lucky Clover Wildpack Beverages. She’s being laid off, she told the AFRO and is now being literally nickel and dimed for bags.

Christopher Pennix came prepared. He brought his reusable bags out of habit.

“It was a surprise to me, but I don’t really watch the news,” Mr. Pennix told the AFRO. “It’s unfortunate that none of the paper bags have handles. So many people in Baltimore don’t have transportation, and prepared for that.”

Christopher Pennix, with his reusable bags, outside Charles Village Safeway

Bryce Jones knew the ban was coming, but implementation wasn’t there for him.

“This is outrageous,” Mr. Jones told the AFRO. “I know that they passed the bill and the city ordinance, banning plastic bags. Just put the bags out. Okay, we have to pay for bags. Why are you all protecting them?”

Self checkout hasn’t caught up to the new ordinance. The register could detect when a shopper bagged an item, but now, with no bags, the scanner seizes up, item by item.

“This is stupid,” Mr. Jones said. “It doesn’t work if you have to use the bagging section. Because then you have to put your items down and then it won’t register. And then you have to wait for someone to come with the override, and something that’s supposed to be simple, takes forever.

It defeats the purpose of self checkout if that’s over something as small as two items.”

TK and John Robinson are on their way home with fajita on the menu. No bags at all. TK has her meats and other fixings in a very neat stack in her hands. The fajita shells balanced just right on top.

They were caught off guard by the ban also. TK will be walking with her armload of groceries to her home on 24th Street. Dark clouds were gathering and it looked like rain at any moment.

“So, we have reusable bags, and we’ll bring them when we go to the grocery store, because this is ridiculous,” TK said. “There’s a lot of irate people at the register, it makes no sense. You’ll see when you go in there.”

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