EASTON — The Easton Town Council unanimously approved legislation Tuesday that will ban most retail establishments in Easton from distributing single-use plastic bags to customers starting next April.
The approval comes after months of back and forth meetings and workshops with the town council as members worked to determine the specifics of the ordinance, exceptions to the bag ban and violation fees.
The newly passed ordinance — which goes into effect on April 2, 2023 — prohibits Easton retailers from providing customers with single-use disposable plastic bags to minimize environmental impacts and production and disposal costs.
Prior to voting to approve the legislation, Ward 2 Council Member Don Abbatiello emphasized to businesses that the new ordinance is not designed as a “gotcha” policy — he and the town council want the legislation to be a success.
“This is not a perfect solution. Rarely when something is done for the environment is it convenient. This is, however, a doable solution,” he said. “It will reduce our consumption of plastic and will incentivize us to reuse the bags we already have, both of which will help improve our community and the waterways nearby.”
Exceptions were made in the ordinance for certain items, including:
- fresh fish, meat and poultry products;
- otherwise unpackaged fruits, nuts, or vegetables;
- otherwise unpackaged confectionery, fresh cheese, baked goods;
- food and goods from farmers’ markets;
- prescription drugs from pharmacies;
- dry-cleaned or laundered items;
- packages of multiple bags intended for disposing garbage, food waste, pet waste or yard waste;
- plant material, flowers or potted plants to prevent spoilage and moisture damage to other purchases;
- live creatures including fish, insects, mollusks or crustaceans from a store normally selling such items;
- freshly prepared hot or cold food, including sliced deli and foods prepared to order.
Retailers can also offer customers paper bags for a 10-cent fee per bag paid by the customer. The fee will be retained by the retail establishment to cover the cost of the bags.
Ward 4 Council Member Rev. Elmer Davis Jr. spoke on how the ordinance is a way to lessen the town’s impact on the environment and take ownership of the consequences of plastic use.
“If we refuse to see the consequences of our actions, as long as we ignore the ways we have contributed to the devastation and loss, as long as we don’t stop to hear the Earth weep and the people and the animals cry out, we will not turn from our ways and do what’s right,” he said.
“Simply, God helped me to see how my actions and lifestyle lead to the destruction of Earth, water, air, animals and our vulnerable community around the world,” Davis continued. “Wake us up so we all can learn to do good instead of cause harm to our community.”
About 88% percent of Maryland voters support local and state policies that reduce single-use plastic, according to a newly released poll of over 300 adults by Oceana.
The poll also indicated that strong majorities of Maryland voters are concerned about the amount and impacts of plastic pollution.
Ward 3 Council Member Ron Engle reflected on how far the effort to end single-use plastic bags in Easton had come over the last year, recalling when he first heard about it from a neighbor.
“We’ve tried and looked at every possible way we can do it and all the research,” he said. “I think this represents our best effort to start this thing out.”
Ward 1 Council Member Al Silverstein thanked the women from Plastic-Free Easton who first proposed the plastic bag initiative to him last year.
“I give [Plastic-Free Easton] a lot of credit for all the actions that they’ve taken, the people that they brought on board as partners, and sitting in the audience and watching how legislation is made, kind of like sausage,” he said. “But more than anything else, we’ve come together, and as a council, we all agreed that this was necessary; it was just a matter of making sure that we did what’s necessary to have legislation that made sense, that was good for everybody, and I’m glad to be part of that.”
Council President Megan Cook echoed the other council members’ remarks, giving a heartfelt thank you to Plastic-Free Easton and the council for the time they put into creating and shaping the ordinance.
Following the unanimous vote, Plastic-Free Easton supporters rejoiced with big smiles and loud applause.
The council also passed a related measure: Resolution 6155, which set the fine amounts for violating the plastic-free ordinance.
Written warnings will be issued for a retailer’s first violation, a $25 fine for the second and a $50 fine for subsequent violations.
Marion Arnold, one of the women leading Plastic-Free Easton, expressed a heartfelt thank you to all town officials who helped pass the ordinance, and expressed more gratitude from Elaine Tama, the group’s leader.
“Thanks to Mayor Willey, Council President Cook and the members of the Easton Town Council for your leadership and your concern for maintaining a healthy and cleaner environment here on the Eastern Shore by taking action to reduce plastic waste where we live,” she said. “A plastic bag ban is by no means the end of such pollution, but it will affect an important and a harmful source of it here.”
“Getting rid of plastic bags at the checkout counter seems like a simple idea, but it’s really a big deal,” Arnold continued. “Congratulations on taking action and thank you again — Plastic-Free Easton looks forward to partnering with the Town of Easton during the rollout period to April 2, 2023 and beyond.”