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Are you ready to ditch the bag? Councilman Squilla thinks so (and so does the Clean Air Council)

June 21, 2019 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose
Yesterday, Councilman Mark Squilla proposed legislation to ban single-use plastic bags. defined as those less than 2.25 millimeters thick, and non-recyclable paper bags.

“Obviously, we really believe that the single-use plastic bag is a big detriment to the city of Philadelphia. Not only through litter on our streets … it also ends up in our streams and on our trees,” Squilla said after the legislation was introduced.

Thick plastic bags and paper bags with 40% post-consumer recycled content, among other specifications, would still be allowed for a 15-cent fee. That fee would be paid by the consumer to the merchant and will not contribute to city funds.

Squilla represents District 1 in the city, which includes parts of parts of South Philadelphia, Chinatown, Center City, Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Kensington, and Port Richmond.

The councilman said he hoped the 15-cent fee going to the retailer will help alleviate business owners’ concerns about the impact of the bill on their business. “We’re not here to say this is a money grab for the city, this is more about doing the right thing, being environmentally friendly,” he added.

“There’s over 450 municipalities and four states (three states that have banned it and one that’s close to banning it). We’ve learned from all those experiences,” said Logan Welde, head of legislation at the Clean Air Council, which provided input on the legislation.

Welde emphasized that while one person might find it convenient to use a plastic bag to purchase three items at a store that alternatively could be carried, put in a pocket, or placed in a reusable bag, the impact such actions have in aggregate are harming the environment.

Some critics, like Brian Hickey of the Philly Voice, have expressed concern about single-use plastic bags’ occasional secondary use — like picking up dog poop.

Addressing those concerns, Welde indicated that the carbon footprint and other environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags makes it worth getting rid of them — especially if, with a little creativity, everyday citizens are able to find substitutes.

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“Open your freezer or your refrigerator,” he said. “A lot of … our bread comes in bags. Your peas are in a plastic bag … There will always be items in our life that we can use to pick up dog poop.”

Squilla’s legislation has lofty aspirations. “The goal of this bill is to reduce the single-use plastic [bags] by 80% in the first year,” he said. And after that? “We have ideas on … reducing the usage of straws, plastic cups, even circulars,” as a means to both [reduce] litter and, through recycling programs, reduce the carbon footprint throughout Philadelphia.

It was hard not to notice, however, that shortly after his legislation was introduced, Squilla leaned forward and took a sip from a plastic straw in his plastic Dunkin Donuts cup.

When this was pointed out to him, Squilla used it as an example of how commonplace disposables have become, so that even people who are passionate about environmental causes tend to go with the default option that’s presented to them.

“So that’s where you want to get people — myself included,” he said. “Sometimes even people who are conscientious about it don’t go that extra step.”

But Squilla said he is working to change his reliance on other forms of single-use plastic. He and his staff make their own iced tea and Squilla just switched to a thermos instead of single use-plastic cups —an individual choice that, in aggregate, could help improve the environment and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

Squilla tried unsuccessfully to pass a similar ban on single-use plastic bags in 2015.

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