Philly City Council committee advances bill banning single-use plastic bags at retail stores

Pat Loeb
October 22, 2019 - 7:15 pm
A man who supports a plastic bag ban at Philadelphia City Council.

Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia is one step closer to joining the growing number of cities that are banning plastic bags after a City Council committee Tuesday advanced a bill that would prohibit retail stores from providing them.

Philadelphia has been debating a plastic bag ban since 2007, when the first attempt was made in City Council. This is the fourth and by this time, Nic Esposito of the city's zero waste effort says, Philadelphia is simply following the lead of 200 other state and local governments.

"This is happening all around the country already. This is an inevitability, that's why you're not seeing the same outcry that you've seen in the passed when this bill has been introduced in Philadelphia," Esposito said.

While a plastic bag ban is hardly revolutionary at this point, to get the bill through committee, sponsor Mark Squilla had to remove a section that would allow stores to provide reusable bags for a 15 cent fee. 

Both his colleagues and the Kenney administration felt that would not work with the city's high poverty rate.

With or without the fee, support for the ban was overwhelming from city officials and environmentalists to neighborhood activists such as Charito Morales. 

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"We have more plastic bags flying all over my neighborhood than birds. And all you see all in our parks and in our trees is more and more trash flying and staying in there," Morales said. 

Esposito summoned sobering facts to support the ban, including a Clean Air Council estimate that Philadelphia uses a billion bags annually, that more than a ton are fished out of the city's waterways each year and that they're the fifth most-littered item behind other single-use plastics, which he predicts will be the subject of future discussion. 

"It's a worldwide conversation that we have to have if we want to continue to live on a clean, nice planet," he said. 

Something else that happened as the city debated the ban was that the state has passed preemptive legislation that says municipalities are not allowed to pass plastic bag bans. 

West Chester Borough Councilmember Donald Braceland urged the committee to ignore the state, as West Chester did.

"I met with Sen. Andy Dinniman who assured me that nothing would happen, based on his many years in Harrisburg, and nothing did. In plain language, we stuck it to the state. And it was pleasant," Braceland said.