Everything you need to know about Philly’s plastic bag ban

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Prepare for your future without a plastic bag.


Target is bracing for the next plastic bag ban in Philadelphia. Staff photo.

With everything going on in the world, you could be forgiven for not following the rollout of the plastic bag ban in Philadelphia closely. Hell, that’s not even the most important story related to garbage right now. This honor would go to the failure of the street service to pick up the garbage on time. Or maybe the street service ticket office people for having taken out their trash cans at the curb on the day of the trash after having failed to empty the said trash cans on the day of the trash. Or just maybe It’s the extension of street sweeping.

But plastic bags are a big deal! According to the city, we collectively review over a billion single-use bags each year, the majority of which are plastic. They often seem to end up in curbside recycling – wishful thinking, ignorance, or perhaps deep-seated guilt on the part of would-be recyclers – clogging up the sophisticated machinery at the recycling plant. (Or at least, that’s what happens when Philly actively recycles – which isn’t always obvious.) And that’s not to mention the environmental impact of bags that just end up being littered.

Fortunately, the number of billion bags of Philly is expected to drop soon thanks to the new ban. But when, exactly?

Great question. Here’s everything you need to know about the plastic bag ban.

When was this law adopted?

It took about the time it takes for a plastic bag to degrade for the Philadelphia Plastic Bag Ban Bill to pass. The first the effort failed in 2007. Two years later, the council nearly passed a bill that would have forced companies to charge for all bags, plastic or otherwise. (At the time, then-city council member Jim Kenney backed the bill, saying the city’s plastic bag policy had to “catch up with the rest of the world.”) Mark Squilla tried a few again. years later, also without success.

So you can see why conservationists were elated when a bill – a bill that did not charge a fee, but instead banned all single-use plastic bags – was finally passed in late 2019. Of course you know what happened next. With many businesses not open at all due to the pandemic and others struggling to stay afloat, the Kenney administration has postponed implementation of the law until January 1, 2021 and then once again until to July 1.

So, is the ban in effect now? Why do I still see plastic bags everywhere?

You still see bags everywhere because the ban actually is not in effect. A very slow rollout is underway, to give retailers enough time to deplete their existing bag stocks while providing an education period for businesses and consumers.

Here’s the current schedule: Starting in August, businesses will have to post signs mentioning the upcoming ban. From October, the ban will be technically be in force. But that won’t really be enforced until April 2022. Fines for non-compliance start at $ 75, and eventually the city will be able to sue businesses and seek heavier penalties if they refuse to queue. April 2022 seems far away, but at least we’re starting the process with the signage now. No baby!

What is really prohibited?

Everyone calls this bill the plastic bag ban, but that is a bit of a misnomer. Some plastic bags in fact are allowed, while some paper bags are not.

Let’s review: Paper bags are safe as long as they aren’t made from old trees and use at least 40 percent recycled material. The bags must also indicate that they are themselves recyclable.

Bags made of nylon, polyester, fabric and other fabrics are also perfectly acceptable. All Disposable plastic bags are prohibited. But if a plastic bag is more than two and a half millimeters thick and is specially designed for multiple use, it is allowed.

And don’t worry about your dry cleaning or trash: plastic bags are still okay for these as well as for wrapping some food products, like meat or fish.

How effective are the plastic bag bans, anyway?

Currently, eight states and many other cities have enacted plastic bag bans, which means it is possible to assess the policy’s performance elsewhere. a NPR item two years ago noted that cities in California where plastic bags had been phased out had a predictable decrease in plastic bag waste. But at the same time, the consumption of plastic garbage bags (mostly the smaller four-gallon variety), which are made of thicker plastic that is even more harmful to the environment, have skyrocketed. The consumption of paper bags has also increased, and although these bags are much more easily recycled, the trade-off is that much more energy and more greenhouse gases to produce these paper bags.

Partly for this reason, conservationists prefer policies that include fees for all single-use bags, to provide another push towards reusable bags. Philly’s Law does not have a fee component, and it remains to be seen how many companies will end up simply replacing plastic with paper.

Of course, it looks like a mixed bag.

What is it about the state legislature’s bag ban?

A quick history lesson: In 2017, Harrisburg Republicans passed a bill that would have banned bag bans locally. Governor Tom Wolf has vetoed this bill. But since we’re talking about Republicans in Harrisburg, that hasn’t stopped them. Two years later, they slipped the bag ban into a budget law that was eventually signed.

The city of philadelphia sued the state on the attempt to ban bans. Fortunately for the bag banners in Philly, this budget law has now expired, and this year’s budget does not contain such a ban. So it seems we are being clear. At least for now.

Have companies really changed the way they operate?

What we really wanted to know is this: What is Wawa, home of the city’s most ubiquitous and famous branded plastic bag, doing about all of this?

A spokesperson told us, “We are offering customers a low-cost 25-cent reusable bag that they can use both at Wawa and for other purchases or personal needs, while encouraging them to skip the bag by. plastic wherever possible.

A reusable 25-cent Wawa bag? It looked exciting, so I took a trip to the Wawa flagship store at 6th and Chestnut. The were reusable tote bags hung behind cash registers. Goal! When I asked for one, I learned they cost fifty dollars. The cashier had no idea what I was talking about when I asked for one of the new 25-cent bags. But I got a good tip: apparently Target offered reusable bags – for free!

Left: Wawa disposable bag. Right: Wawa reusable bag.

So I walked to Chestnut Street – a Wawa disposable plastic bag in hand – and headed for Target. Another Wawa plastic bag blew across the street. During my pilgrimage, I could not find a single store with signs mentioning the upcoming ban on bags.

I finally got to Target, standing in front of a sign proclaiming, “This store is now bagless.” A good omen!

When I got to the checkout line, however, there was no reusable bin to be found. Apparently they were exhausted. There was, however, a replacement: a gigantic pile of plastic bags.

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