Baltimore, MD - Jan. 23, 2023 - The final discussion for this matter will take place during the work session on January 31st.

Click here to read the bill.

Please send your thoughts on the issue to:


 410-887-5791 (fax)

The final vote will be on February 6th. If the community does not provide input by January 31st, this will become law as the council will vote without further discussion on February 6th.

Baltimore, MD - January 15, 2023
– Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka has proposed an across-the-board ban on all plastic shopping bags in Baltimore County.  Shoppers would have 3 options to get their groceries home: (1) carry their groceries out of the store in their hands (!), or (2) pay the store 10 cents per bag for paper bags (!), or (3) bring their own used, dirty fabric bags from home (!).  As with any across-the-board governmental dictate, there would be inevitable unintended consequences. For some, it would be mainly tremendous inconvenience, and for others, it may be much more than that.

This article seeks to enlighten the Baltimore County government - among other uninformed community members - with documented evidence culled from bona fide studies, as well as interviews of Seven Mile Market Manager Moshe Boehm and Market Maven Manager Eli Siegel. They dispel the myth that Councilman Patoka’s “Bring Your Own Bag Act” will have no ill effects (no pun intended!) for our community.

Just a year ago, Baltimore County’s website touted the effectiveness of the county’s handling of COVID-19 – the decrease of its COVID positivity rate by nearly 80 percent, its average 7-day COVID case rate decrease by over 85 percent, and the average number of hospitalized COVID patients decrease by nearly 50 percent. In fact, it still reads, “All residents are encouraged to continue taking precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

It seems incongruous that County residents with concerns about banning plastic bags - with mounting medical and societal study evidence that substituted reusable bags put our health and our lives at risk – have been met with undiplomatic condescension from Councilman Patoka’s chief of staff.  Nonetheless, several District 2 constituents who opposed the ban for health/safety reasons shared their disappointing email responses with BJL. Although they were, in part, customized, they each received this form language from Councilman Patoka’s Chief of Staff, Justin Silberman, in rebuttal:

“Thank you for your email.

Just for clarity, have you actually read the bill? Or are you just repeating similar talking points posted by an abrupt, misinformed and largely factually incorrect opinion piece on the Baltimore Jewish Life’s website? It seems like you have not read the bill and are being misled with lots of misinformation unfortunately….

Furthermore, as some have suggested, any notion that “reusable bags harbor dangerous germs like E coli, salmonella, and staph when not cleaned and disinfected properly” is false and misleading.

As long as you wash the reusable properly and store them in a clean place, away from excess sunlight or humidity, a reusable grocery bag can last for many years, and you can use it to carry non-grocery items, too.

If you don't have time to wash your reusable grocery bag thoroughly, then you can simple [sic] disinfect it with Lysol or other similar disinfectants. An antibacterial wipe works just as well.

Leaks are less likely to be a problem with reusable bags, and it’s easier to control where reusable bags have been and what germs they may carry.”

There is a federal requirement for the states to take some steps to reduce plastic bag litter.  The states have leeway in deciding how to go about this.  A wonderful source of information regarding what has been done to combat this in other states is a “Waste Management” article [Journal Homepage:], “Reducing single-use plastic shopping bags in the USA” (Travis P. Wagner). This research helps answer those who question. ‘If we have to reduce litter, is putting a ban on plastic bag usage the way – or the only way – to do it?’

Soon after reusable bags first appeared, a study, conducted in Canada, [“Grocery Carry Bag Sanitation: A Microbiological Study of Reusable Bags and ‘First of single-use’ Plastic Bags”, Dr. Richard Summerbell, 2009] found that bacterial contamination was common on reusable shopping bags. 

A local health care practitioner shared, “because of the high rate of contamination of reusable shopping bags, it is possible it may lead to a higher rate of food poisoning, which may sometimes have long term complications." It’s interesting that Consumer Reports [“Is Our Ground Meat Safe to Eat?”, Lisa L. Gill, 1/30/22] recently tested a lot of chicken and meat. "CR found salmonella in 23 of the 75 samples of ground chicken we tested. All the salmonella was resistant to at least one antibiotic, and 78 percent were resistant to multiple drugs. We also found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in some samples of ground beef, and turkey. In fact, a salmonella strain found in a ground pork sample was resistant to 12 antibiotics, the most in our tests."

The main point of the study was that foodborne pathogens are common, i.e., the food we buy is frequently contaminated. If we put it into a reusable bag, we are going to contaminate that bag. The government is trying to say, ‘So, just clean your bag!’”

“Sounds simple enough, perhaps,” continues this health care practitioner, “however, there are two main studies about the cross-contamination of using a reusable bag which indicate that after swab testing the bags and interviewing their owners, asking if they ever cleaned them, 97 percent of the people never cleaned their bags.”  Food Protection Trends, Vol. 31, No. 8, Pages 508-513: “Assessment of the Potential for Cross-contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags”, David L. Williams, Charles P. Gerba, Sherri Maxwell, Ryan G. Sinclair, August 2011. A Cleveland Clinic infectious disease doctor, Susan Rehm, MD, refers to this study in a YouTube video. A similar study, conducted in Canada, [“Grocery Carry Bag Sanitation: A Microbiological Study of Reusable Bags and ‘First of single-use’ Plastic Bags”, Dr. Richard Summerbell, 2009], revealed less contamination, however, the 2011 study  points out that temperatures in Canada are lower, contributing to less bacterial growth. If you leave your bags in the trunk, or out on a summer day or in a humid environment, the contamination will be much worse.  

The Consumer Reports study in their recommendations states: “At the grocery store, keep raw meats in a disposable bag, separated from other foods. This can reduce the chance of a contaminated package coming into contact with other foods, especially uncooked foods that are consumed raw, such as fruits and salads.”

That is a really important consumer behavior to factor in.  But the County is ignoring the reality that people are not cleaning their reusable bags and they are not going to clean their bags, either because they don’t have time, they don’t know how to do it, the chemicals irritate their hands, or it aggravates their asthma; they are not easy to clean so people are not cleaning their bags.  

The question that must be asked is whether the significance of this consumer behavior was factored into the legislation.  Is it reasonable to expect the 80-year-old man or someone with asthma or others to be disinfecting their reusable bags?  Certainly the 80-year-old is unlikely to be carrying his groceries by hand or to use a paper bag with no handles.  And even if the paper bags have handles, we all know how easily the handles break, or the bag rips, or both.  Or are people going to be careful to never put an apple in a bag that once had meat in it? 

The fact is that a large portion of the population is immunocompromised, in addition to elderly people with weaker immune systems, who have 70-year-old habits of going to the grocery store and putting food in bags. They are not going to be cleaning these bags; it is hard enough for them to go shopping. For those people who used their bags for raw chicken or meat, and never sanitized them before their next shopping trip for apples, for example, they are contaminating those apples that will be going into their mouth and make themselves really sick – for some, it will be food poisoning, for others it will cause organ issues. Although it is a serious problem for the immunosuppressed, there are also children who have died from food poisoning.

The Consumer Reports study previously mentioned stresses, “At the grocery store, keep raw meats in a disposable bag, separated from other foods. This can reduce the chance of a contaminated package coming into contact with other foods, especially uncooked foods that are consumed raw, such as fruits and salads.”

Moshe Boehm of Seven Mile Market, notes, “The studies speak for themselves…I think the problems the proposed ban will lead to are much more significant than what we are dealing with, and we just don’t need the County to change its mind, we need the State to change its mind. Banning the bag is a much bigger issue than what people think it is. I don’t think it has been properly studied or vetted to get the results it hopes to get. Therefore, I don’t think we should do this right now.”

An additional concern of Mr. Boehm, should the bill be passed, is differentiating between his honest shoppers and shoplifters. “It is very difficult to differentiate. Right now, shoppers who come into the store with a bag, are especially being watched. Last week, alone, we caught four or five shoplifters – imagine how many we didn’t catch. Banning the bag is going to make catching culprits even more tricky, and do you know who is going to pay for all that shoplifting? You are! We need to study what is being proposed and realize that there are other things more important for our elected officials to be dealing with than if my great-great-great-great-great grandchildren need to worry about something. Maybe we should stop selling bottled water, and just drink from our sinks? The point is, it’s just not about the bag.”

In defense of Baltimore Jewish Life regarding Councilman Patoka’s chief of staff’s accusation (“have you actually read the bill? Or are you just repeating similar talking points posted by an abrupt, misinformed and largely factually incorrect opinion piece on the Baltimore Jewish Life’s website? It seems like you have not read the bill and are being misled with lots of misinformation unfortunately….”), Mr. Boehm notes: “I have spoken to people who have read the bill and I know people who have read the article on Baltimore Jewish Life, and the BJL article seems to be very reliable and accurate.”

Mr. Boehm also mentions that in some stores, when shoppers come with their reusable bags, cashiers will not bag a customer’s order; they refuse to touch these bags.  This will cause fights between the customer and the cashier…  “Customers will need to bag their own groceries to prevent these issues.  This has not been how we operate.”

“This has nothing to do with ban the bag, but with an outcome from these types of things…Do you have any idea how much these bags cost me yearly? A lot of money, yet we do it for a reason – it’s convenient for the customer, it works for the cashier – but whatever the ban will save us, I think, will cost us more in aggravation and tumult and fighting and stolen product and broken product in the parking lot. It is not about the money right now ... it will wreak tremendous havoc, unnecessarily for all people involved – consumers and businesses, alike.”

Eli Siegel of Market Maven is of like mind with Mr. Boehm. “The issue is that the reality – based on our experience – is that reusable bags come in dirty; people don’t launder their bags between shopping trips. Although they say it is no big deal to launder these bags, the reality is that people don’t. So, what happens is that you get meat juice, chicken juice, and fish juice leaking in these bags – this is cross-contamination. If you are going to put an apple into a bag that yesterday had any of these juices in it, and you don’t wash that apple very carefully, you are going to put yourself in danger. We see bags coming in with dog and cat hairs that are smelly and filled with mold.

“Paper bags are nice,” Mr. Siegel continues, “but they are flimsy and rip, so you will have to double or triple the bags, and what happens when it rips? Who is responsible for replacing it and the broken products?”

Market Maven also experiences shoplifting several times a week, he says. “If someone comes in with a backpack or duffle bag, it right away raises a flag – it’s the tool of the trade. I am going to have to devote way more attention to security, and hire more security, just to look out for every person shopping with such a bag. I don’t have the resources to do it, especially with skyrocketing prices of food, and it will just be another financial burden on me. If I see someone walking out of the store with groceries in their hands, I assume they stole them. What if you did not bring a bag, and you don’t want to pay for a paper bag?

“I’m not against trying to better our behavior, create a better world for everybody, and keeping the waterways clean, but I think there are so many issues that need to be addressed. At the end of the day, the extra expense will have to be passed down to the consumer. With the cost of goods more than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, it will be throwing another burden onto the consumer. I feel it is just not the right time.”

Mr. Siegel believes there are many more things that we can do to help with pollution. “I’ve seen garbage being dumped on the side of the road regularly, tires, construction material, and other debris all over Baltimore. In New York, there are regular street sweeping days. Here, if the Pikesville streets get swept more than once a month, we are lucky. That garbage goes into the waterways. That is another way to combat pollution.”

By the way, on June 17, 2021, after months of studying and holding many meetings to improve solid waste issues in Baltimore County, the “Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority” submitted, “The Final Report of the Baltimore County Solid Waste Work Group”. They made 19 recommendations which were listed in their report -- eliminating the use of plastic bags by consumers was NOT one of their recommendations. It seems obvious that Councilman Patoka’s proposed bill is about something other than what this esteemed solid waste work group thought was unnecessary.

Considering these studies and interviews, rather than sweeping legislation, perhaps this should be the beginning of a conversation about how we can reduce litter. What have other states done? What ideas do we have to get to the end goal of decreasing litter, while not trampling on people’s personal freedoms and not taking away options from those who, for example, are not capable of cleaning their bags? Even tripled paper bags will not guarantee the safe delivery of a couple gallons of milk home from the supermarket. There must be some discussion about exceptions and the least invasive way that gets the end goal, as opposed to the force-it-down-your-throat approach.

Councilman Patoka’s bill was proposed without first consulting the constituents of Baltimore County to gather their thoughts regarding how it would impact them. Now is the time for Baltimore County constituents who value their personal freedoms to speak up. It is important that we not only voice our opinion about this proposed bill, but that we are heard, respectfully validated, and truly represented by an official that the majority, I dare say, put into office because of the confidence they had in him.

In conclusion, former attorney Michael Steinberg, one of the top toxic waste attorneys in the country, shares:  "Reusable bags are filthy, and I try to keep far away from them.  They collect dirt, germs, pet hair, and other yucky stuff.  This bill would turn our grocery stores into unclean and unhealthy places.  It’s kind of like banning Kleenex and making people bring their used tissues to the store every time they shop.  How gross!  Maybe our elected officials could focus on something more constructive?"