Will Other Cities in Allegheny County Consider Bans on Single-Use Bags?

Experts will present testimony about the litter in Allegheny County to community policymakers on Feb. 15 in hopes that other cities will follow Pittsburgh in adopting similar initiatives.
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As Pittsburgh’s citywide ban on single-use plastic bags in grocery stores and other retailers is set to go into effect this year, PennEnvironment, an environmental nonprofit, is betting there’s a countywide appetite for initiatives in other towns and boroughs. 

Allegheny County Council’s Committee on Sustainability and Green Initiatives, in collaboration with PennEnvironment, is holding a public hearing at 5 p.m. Feb. 15 to hear testimony from experts about the litter in Allegheny County and how communities can enact bans on single-use plastic bags. It will be held both in person at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Conference Room 1 and online.

Pittsburgh City Council joined six communities in Pennsylvania last year when it voted unanimously to ban the use of single-use plastic bags in grocery stores and retailers. Since then, that number now includes more than a dozen communities. 

Pittsburgh’s plastic bag ban, which was authored by Councilperson Erika Strassburger, will exempt bulk items such as packaged meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Shoppers are encouraged to use reusable bags, though retailers will be allowed to sell paper bags for 10 cents each. The ban was set to go into effect a year after it’s approval — on April 12 — however, Scott McMurtry, Strassburger’s chief of staff, says there have been discussions of pushing back the enactment to a later date this year.

Dan Brown, a field organizer for PennEnvironment, says the public hearing will touch on single-use plastics as a litter problem and as a human health problem and will walk attendees through “the tangible first steps they can take to begin passing a bag ban in their municipality.”

Brown says he wants Pittsburgh’s legislative success to be a model for interested policymakers and community members who are looking to enact single-use plastic bags in their communities. The ultimate goal is a statewide ban. 

“Maybe it’ll take six months,” Brown says. “Maybe it’ll even take a couple of years. But over time, we hope to kind of fill in the map in Pennsylvania. That ideally is the long game. We would love Harrisburg to take this on statewide.”

The City of Bridges has no shortage of waterways to cross, which Brown says makes Allegheny County especially vulnerable to the dangers of microplastics.

PennEnvironment conducted studies of the waterways in the county and found microplastics in even the most remote rivers. There are enough microplastics, in fact, to be the equivalent of “people eating one credit card a week,” he says.

“We’re beginning to confront kind of a sleeping giant of a problem when you look at the human health impacts of degraded plastic over the centuries, and so there’s no quick fix, but the most obvious place to start is by banning the most egregious offenders which are single-use plastic bags.”

Categories: The 412