Full enforcement of Philadelphia’s plastic bag ban begins April 1 with fines

Many restaurants, take-out outlets and retailers are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Now, as the application of The city’s plastic bag ban begins Friday, they face another hurdle – paying for non-plastic bags or forcing customers to bring their own.

Most businesses in West Philadelphia will comply, said Jabari Jones, president of the West Philadelphia Corridor Collaborative, but it hasn’t been easy on their bottom line or their customers.

“There’s definitely been a cost effect,” Jones said, adding that some business owners switching from paper to plastic report that their costs are doubled for less than half the number of bags. “Every penny counts from a profit perspective for them.”

The city’s plastic bag ban has been in place since July, but so far has only been enforced with warnings. With a comprehensive app, business owners could now face fineswhich start at $150, if they don’t provide recyclable paper or other bags or ask customers to bring their own bags.

With the ban in place, most businesses aren’t rushing to make last-minute changes and most customers are unlikely to notice a difference in their shopping experiences.

Some experts and conservationists say the move marks a significant step towards less plastic pollution, a step they hope will be made worse in the future with changes such as a mandatory bag fee.

Philadelphia businesses are not currently required to charge for paper or multi-use bags, but City Council member Mark Squilla, who sponsored the bag ban bill, said he and his colleagues were “working” on its implementation.

Such fees would “certainly help with compliance,” said Faran Savitz, a zero-waste advocate for PennEnvironment, a nonprofit advocacy group, who found this winter that many Philadelphia businesses were not complying with the ban. And “the fees encourage people to use fewer bags in general”.

Proponents say that bans, regardless of their form or whether they come with a fee, result in less waste and a cleaner environment. In California, the first state to introduce such legislation, plastic bag litter along beaches and rivers decreased by 72% after the ban went into effect in 2016. After Washington, DC imposed a five-cent fee for all paper and plastic bags, it saw a significant reduction in the use of disposable bags. About 75% of residents reduces their use of bags and most businesses gave out fewer bags by at least half, depending on the district.

In Philadelphia, the ban should have a similar result, resulting in less litter on the streets, fewer hours spent by city employees cleaning up that litter, and less plastic pollution, said Sherri Mason, director of sustainability. at Penn State Behrend in Erie.

“No policy is perfect. There will always be people who will find the flaws, but [a measure like the plastic bag ban] pushes you in the direction you want to go,” Mason said. “When these changes start to take effect, you see it in your physical environment and people want more.”

Downtown, Lore’s Chocolate customers have been carrying their treats in the shop’s new personalized, printed paper bags for months. So when the full enforcement of the plastic bag ban begins, the chocolatier will be ready.

Although the change cost money, “I think customers appreciate it,” said owner Tony Walter, Jr. “It’s a net positive.”

It is a process stored in other cities and states have suffered in recent years. Along with California, Delaware, New York, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, and Oregon have all banned single-use plastic bags, along with all jurisdictions in Hawaii. A ban will come into effect in New Jersey on May 4.

The plastics industry and some lawmakers across the country have pushed back against bans, citing in part the impact on small businesses, and studies have shown that reusable bags need to be used for an extended period in order to have less impact on the environment than single-use plastic bags. A 2017 Canadian study found that traditional plastic bags have less overall environmental impact than paper or thicker plastic bags, except when plastic bags are left on the street as litter.

Philadelphians use nearly a billion plastic bags every year, depending on the city.

Since Philadelphia began issuing warnings for bag ban violations in October, 199 have been issued, said Karen Guss, spokeswoman for the city’s licensing and inspections department.

Major retailers are complying with the ban in different ways:

  • Wawa encourages customers to forego a bag when they can, but also sells reusable bags for 35 cents.

  • Acme stores offer reusable bags for purchase.

  • Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores have reusable bins for purchase, along with the empty boxes they have always provided for large orders.

  • Target stores offer paper or “reusable plastic” bags in their stores.

  • CVS and Rite Aid provide free paper bags.

  • Whole Foods offers paper bags, having phased out plastic bags in all of its stores in 2008.

Some small businesses had to make tough decisions.

In West Philadelphia, for example, Jones said most restaurants and takeouts couldn’t afford to offer tote bags. In order to buy paper bags, he said, they plan to raise food prices.

At Cousins ​​Fresh Market, which has three locations in West and Southwest Philadelphia, owner Sayed Ahmad said people should now bring their own bags.

“It’s very difficult and uncomfortable for customers,” Ahmad said from his 64th and Woodland Avenue store, adding that he was worried people would start going to Darby or Upper Darby to shop. in place.

Editors Catherine Dunn and Justine McDaniel contributed to this article.

Bryce K. Locke