Pittsburgh Eyeing Plastic Bag Ban

By Stephon Burton

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/

As of September 2, 2021, there have been talks of banning single-use plastic bags in Pittsburgh. A statewide preemption that barred municipalities from enacting prohibitions or enforcing existing bans on single-use plastic bags originally enacted during the  COVID-19 lockdown was not renewed when the state budget was passed in June 2021.[1] 

As a bit of background, since 2019, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has had a preemption on bans or fees relating to single-use plastics, barring municipalities from implementing their own bans or fees. On June 25, 2021, the General Assembly passed the 2021-22 state budget without language extending the preemption, thereby allowing cities, townships, and boroughs to implement and enforce ordinances related to single-use plastic as early as December 8, 2021.[2]

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Erika Strassburger wants to see her city limit plastic bag use, too. In May 2021, she introduced a resolution expressing the “intent to introduce” an ordinance limiting the use of plastic bags once the state regulation expired.[3] To this end, the Council passed a resolution in May declaring its intent to ban plastic bags within city limits. This ban would also impose a fee on paper bags. This, per her words, is “meant to discourage the use of paper bags and compensate the retailer.”[4] Councilwoman Strassburger said Pittsburgh had actually already begun planning ways to implement the ban before it knew the preemption would expire. Pittsburgh now has a clearer timeline of when it will be able to officially introduce and enforce a ban. The Council plans to follow in Philadelphia’s footsteps with an extended outreach and feedback period. Councilwoman Strassburger explains the use of Philadelphia’s process, stating “the reason we aren’t just introducing it tomorrow — we could if we wanted to, we’re ready with the language — but … it’s important, I think, for ensuring that as many voices are heard beforehand to take that time to listen to different voices.”[5]

For Pittsburgh businesses, this is a prime opportunity to vocalize feelings on the matter, seeing as there are plans for an extended feedback period. In favor of this new policy, it is a great transition to both a more environmentally and economically friendly option. This could be a great move for businesses economically as the implementation of reusable bags will greatly reduce the amount of money that these businesses, namely stores, will spend on having a constant supply of plastic bags. This plan, as stated by Councilwoman Strassburger would put money back into the businesses. This seems to be a great move in being environmentally conscious and would reintroduce cash into these businesses and accordingly, businesses should be aware of these potential changes coming and keep an eye out for anything further from the City Council.

[1] Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board, It’s Time to Cut Back on Single-Use Plastic Bags, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Sep. 2, 2021) https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2021/09/02/Cities-and-municipalities-will-soon-be-able-to-ban-use-of-plastic-bags/stories/202107210049

[2]Kimberly Rooney, Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban Cleared for PA Cities as Pittsburgh Moves to Eliminate Plastic Bags, Pittsburgh City Paper (Jul. 1, 2021), https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/single-use-plastics-ban-cleared-for-pa-cities-as-pittsburgh-moves-to-eliminate-plastic-bags/Content?oid=19763862

[3] Id.

[4] Dan Gilman, Pittsburgh Wants to Spend American Rescue Plan Funds to Protect City Workers, Support Housing, WESA (Jul. 7, 2021), https://www.wesa.fm/show/the-confluence/2021-07-07/pittsburgh-wants-to-spend-american-rescue-plan-funds-to-protect-city-workers-support-housing

[5] Lindsay Weber, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia Move Ahead with Plastic Bag Bans as PA.’s Preemption Nears its End, Trib Live (Jun 30, 2021) https://triblive.com/news/pennsylvania/pittsburgh-philadelphia-move-ahead-with-plastic-bag-bans-as-pa-s-preemption-nears-its-end/

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