The Baltimore City Council gave final approval Monday to a bill which would prohibit retail stores from giving customers plastic bags at checkout.
The measure has been debated before the council for more than ten years and has faced strong opposition from the Maryland Retailers' Association.
Many retail merchants say plastic bags are the choice of most consumers, and converting to only paper bags would cost many businesses owners more money.
But environmentalists say the plastic bags cannot be recycled and often wind up on streets and in streams adding to the city's trash problem.
Retail grocery stores would still be allowed to use smaller plastic bags for deli, meats and fish.
City Councilman Bill Henry, the bill's sponsor, told his colleagues Monday night "We have been trying for many years to reduce the proliferation of single use plastic in Baltimore City."
Henry says many shoppers who are given plastic bags at checkout lines contain only one or two items which are quickly discarded.
Since the new law would require retailers to charge shoppers five cents for every paper bag they use, it should cut down on the number of bags.
"When they realize 'Oh I have to pay something to get this bag' they may say 'I don't really need this' and the bags that aren't really needed are a big part of the ones that end up being just dropped onto the ground," said Henry.
Only one council member voted against the plastic bag ban bill.
City Councilwoman Danielle McCray says she supports the idea of banning plastic bags but opposed the five cent fee on customers for each paper bag they use.
"It's an unnecessary and regressive tax on low-income residents, on working families on a fixed income," said McCray.
The original bill called for four of the five cents collected for paper bags to go back to the city, and just one cent returned to the stores.
But after numerous complaints from merchants, the bill was amended.
Now just one cent collected will go to the city, and the remaining four cents will be returned to the retailers.
While the bill does call for both civil and criminal penalties for repeat violators, Councilman Henry says that is not the intent of the law.
He says the penalties "are not expected to be used on any random retail establishment where somebody makes a mistake."
A spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Jack Young says the mayor is still reviewing the final version of the bill and has not yet decided whether to sign the measure.
If the mayor declines the sign the measure, it would automatically take effect but would not be enforced for another year to allow retailers to use up the remaining plastic bags in their inventory.