Plastic Bag Bans – Do They Work?

According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer per a report issued by the City of Philadelphia (the “City”), the City’s 2019 plastic bag ban has resulted in a significant reduction in the use of plastic bags – i.e., the equivalent of filling Philadelphia City Hall with plastic bags every 8 months which would be approximately 200 Million less plastic bags.  The City’s  report – “Evaluating the Ban: Philadelphia’s Plastic Bag Ban and Changes in Bag Usage in the City” (the “Report”) focused on 2021 to 2022, was conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and Swarthmore College and, concluded that the ban significantly reduced plastic bag use in the City.

Click on this link for a copy of the Report. extension://elhekieabhbkpmcefcoobjddigjcaadp/,clear%20boundary%20between%20the%20regulated%20and%20unregulated%20areas.

The City’s ban was passed by City Council in 2019 and took effect on July 1, 2021.  It prohibits retailer from providing single use plastic bags and paper bags not made of at least 40% recycled material.

Per the Inquirer, 16 other municipalities in Pennsylvania have some sort of plastic bag ban, including Cheltenham, Radnor, Haverford, Media and Pittsburgh. Cheltenham’s ordinance was recently adopted earlier this week and regulates single use plastic bags, including restaurants’ use of such bags.

The Report concluded that in each category improvement was shown in both the City and the suburbs by way of reusable bag use and reduction of plastic bag use (i.e., proportion using any plastic bag (down), proportion using any paper bag (up) , proportion using any recycled bag (up), proportion using no bag (up), number of plastic bags used per customer (down), number of paper bags used per customer (up) and number of reusable bags used per customer (up)).

As hoped for, the ban resulted in a 53% reduction in the likelihood of a consumer using a plastic bag.

Across the bridge in New Jersey, the State enacted the Single Use Waste Reduction Act in May, 2022 which banned plastic bags and foam food containers and built off of an earlier plastic straw ban which went into effect in 2021.  Bags in NJ used to wrap uncooked meat, fish or poultry; bags used to package loose items; and bags used to carry live animals are all exempt from the ban. Residents continue to be frustrated, per recent polling, with the inclusion of a ban on paper bags which are not permitted to be handed out or sold at big box stores and grocery stores larger than 2,500 feet in size.  The NJ ban also includes carry out and to go styrofoam cups, plates and to go containers .

Take Aways – it appears pretty clear that behavior can be changed via regulation and that the ban on the use of single use plastic bags and similar products is, in fact, reducing the among of these bags in the waste stream and in common usage without a real negative effect other than some convenience by consumers.  Like many things these days, not all municipalities or States will pursue this avenue as a means to reduce dependence on plastics which tend to find their way into our water ways and waste streams, but those that do pass such bans are seeing a marked decrease in the use of these products.

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on your Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives. For more information or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, David Amerikaner, Sheila Rafferty-Wiggins, Alice Shanahan, Jeff Hamera, Nanette Heide, Joel Ephross, Jolie-Anne Ansley, Robert Montejo, Seth Cooley, or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

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