Pittsburgh’s plastic bag ban still in the works, due to small business concerns

The Pittsburgh City Council has been talking about banning single-use plastic bags for nearly a year now and passed legislation to that effect last November. But the bill has been held up for months due to concerns from small businesses and community members, according to the bill’s sponsor, Councilwoman Erika Strassburger.

The measure is on the agenda again on Wednesday, but Strassburger says it expects another postponement.

The bill would ban single-use plastic bags and encourage shoppers to bring recyclable bags. Alternatively, they could purchase paper bags for a fee, which would go directly to the retailer.

The aim is to reduce plastic bag pollution in the city. But some business owners wonder how it might affect them.

“Supply chain costs are already rising,” said Jeff Cohen, owner of Smallman Street Deli. He said with inflation already soaring, the timing couldn’t be worse. I wouldn’t do anything like this until 2023 or 2024.”

Cohen said officials need to consider the plight of people who have low-income budgets or fixed incomes — and that there should be a food delivery plan.

“The biggest issue is going to be delivery from places,” he said.

“You don’t have anything to replace them with,” Cohen said, “It’s 75% more using paper, per bag. Sometimes it’s around 50%, but it definitely doubles the cost of plastic bags. . »

Strassburger said the bill could be drafted to address those concerns, she said, including “potentially exempting those who receive SNAP or WIC or other benefits” that help low-income households. to pay for groceries.

Strassburger also acknowledged that businesses and residents will need time to adjust to the new policy. Even after the bill passed, she said she plans to give stores and customers a full year to prepare, rather than the current six months in the bill.

Similar legislation passed in Philadelphia after it was sponsored by Councilman Mark Squilla. As in Pittsburgh, the goal of the bill was to help reduce plastic waste. Squilla’s office said most of the concerns came from supermarkets.

“Some supermarkets here charge for paper bags to offset the costs,” said Anne Kelly, Squilla’s chief of staff. “It was largely because the smaller neighborhood stores didn’t want to charge them.”

But she said Philadelphia gave customers time to adjust.

The “Philadelphia Department of Commerce and Target gave intensive service [reusable] bags for about a month before the ban came into effect to entice people to use them,” she said.

Strassburger said it was interested in similar opportunities for Pittsburgh, which could partner with stores to distribute reusable bags.

And some stores in Pittsburgh might not need much convincing. Before the coronavirus pandemic, some Giant Eagle grocery stores were eliminating plastic bags. The local channel reversed its stance due to pandemic-era concerns about potential transmission of COVID from people bringing their own bags. However, Giant Eagle said it supports the bill and plans to resume efforts to stop using plastic.

Meanwhile, Kelly said Philadelphia’s legislation is having an impact.

“You see a difference in the plastic bags flying around and littered everywhere,” Kelly said.

Bryce K. Locke