Philly Council passes long-awaited ban on single-use plastic bags

    (Image via Flickr Commons)

    By John N. Mitchell

    PHILADELPHIA —  Philadelphia City Council passed a bill Thursday that bans stores from providing customers with single-use plastic bags.

    The bill was passed 15-2. Councilmen Brian O’Neill and David Oh voted against it.

    The bill now goes to Mayor Jim Kenney, who has said he intends to sign it into law.

    “This has been a long time coming,” said Councilman Mark Squilla, who championed the bill. “It’s been a long process and I’m pleased to do my part to improve the environment for generations of Philadelphians to come.”

    But Squilla said there could be amendments to the bill.

    “In the next [council] session, I will continue to work with all stakeholders and my council colleagues on a solution that is best for the city’s environment and this will be a legislative priority,” he said.

    The bill would take effect on July 2, 2020. It affects supermarkets, convenience stores, service stations, food trucks, farmer’s markets, restaurants and delivery services. They will have to switch to giving out paper bags.

    The bill bans all single-use bags except dog-poop bags or any other bag that can be bought in a store. Bags used inside stores to package items such as fruits or meats, and dry cleaning bags are also excluded.

    A plastic bag ban or tax has been in the works for more than a decade. Squilla pushed for the legislation three times over the last few years before it was approved on Thursday.

    An attempt to impose a 15-cent fee on all other single-use bags failed due to other council members arguing that the fee would disproportionately impact the city’s poor residents.

    The purpose of the plan is twofold: to reduce waste and to save the city money. Philadelphia spends between $9 million and $12 million a year removing plastic bag waste across the city. And plastic bags cannot be recycled.

    The ban is not without its naysayers.

    “I don’t want to lose the only job I have,” said Francis McCloskey, who works at a local market. “I am struggling to find another one. I went eight years without working and I don’t want to go through eight more years of unemployment. Don’t make me suffer through that. I don’t want to be unable to pay my bills again.”

    John N. Mitchell is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.