Single-Use Bags

Single-use bags embody almost everything opposed by the environmental movement. They’re only used for a few minutes but can take hundreds of years to decompose, making them incredibly wasteful. They migrate via the wind and water and kill thousands of animals every year. And yet, these bags are misleadingly marketed as green and “recyclable” when in reality they can’t be recycled in the curbside recycling program. The use of most bags could be entirely avoided if people simply brought their own bags.
To reduce the use of paper and plastic bags, the Council has been advocating for a bill in Philadelphia to charge consumers 5¢ for each single-use bag taken at the checkout. Philadelphia alone goes through about a billion plastic bags per year, and other areas that have passed similar legislation see bag use drop by about 80%. The bill has gained a number of prominent supporters, including members of City Council, and we hope to see Mayor Kenney eventually sign it into law.


Single-use bags have been a regular staple of businesses for decades now. In the 1970s, plastic bags were designed to be a cheap and durable alternative to paper bags. Not only were they weather-resistant, but they were also lighter to ship and easier to store. Eventually, plastic bags overtook paper bags as the preferred choice.
It didn’t take long for the harmful effects of plastic bags to become apparent. The light bags easily blow in the wind. They often catch in fences, gardens, trees, and sewage lines. The bags last for hundreds of years, if not more, cause damage to machinery and waterways, and kill all types of wildlife. Paper bags are similarly harmful, requiring far more resources to produce and ship than plastic bags and are more expensive for retailers. We all end up paying a tremendous cost for these “free” bags, both financially and environmentally.

Legislation

Since 2012 the Clean Air Council has been pushing a bill in Philadelphia City Council to reflect the true cost of these bags. The bill would charge consumers 5¢ for each bag, paper or plastic, that they used. 2¢ would go to the city of Philadelphia, and 3¢ would go to the merchant.
Although the bill hasn’t passed yet, there has been significant discussion around it. The Council’s primary advocate for the bill, Logan Welde, participated in an hour-long debate with the American Progressive Plastic Bag Alliance and Hilex Poly on the public radio show Radio Times (which you can listen to here ). Logan was also interviewed on Wisconsin Public Radio , Grid Magazine, and Axis Philly. We’re hopeful that, with the new Kenney administration, the bill will be reconsidered and ultimately passed.

For more information on the bill (or bags in general), please contact Logan Welde. He can be reached at 215-567-4004 ext. 126, or by email at lwelde@cleanair.org.

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