Philadelphia City Council took a step toward banning single-use plastic bags Tuesday, as a Council committee voted in favor of a bill that would prohibit retailers from providing them to customers.
The vote came after Councilman Mark Squilla, the bill’s sponsor, opted to compromise and remove a proposed fee for customers who use paper bags. The legislation will now go to the full Council.
Squilla introduced the bill in June to ban all single-use plastic bags and require retailers to charge 15 cents for paper bags. He removed the fee from the bill Tuesday to compromise with Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who chairs the Licenses and Inspections Committee and criticized the fee as regressive and hurtful to low-income residents.
“I’m against any regressive tax and any fee to poor people, particularly in food deserts,” she said.
Squilla and supporters of his bill pointed to other cities’ experiences adding fees to bag bans and seeing a greater impact because the fees encouraged more people to bring their own reusable bags. But he ultimately chose to move forward with only the ban on plastic.
“I think it seems like everybody’s in the same boat of getting rid of the single-use plastics,” Squilla said.
The regulations would apply to retail establishments, including supermarkets, convenience stores, clothing and department stores, dollar stores, restaurants, food trucks, farmers’ markets, and delivery services. The legislation would also ban plastic bags used to hold newspapers and circulars. Another amendment made Tuesday would exempt dry cleaners from the plastic bag ban.
The bill is the fourth attempt at passing legislation in Philadelphia to regulate plastic bag use; previous attempts failed to pass through City Council in 2007, 2009, and 2015.
Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration supports the bill.
“It’s been a long, strange trip to get here,” said Nic Esposito, director of the administration’s zero waste program. “This is something that is going to be an ongoing conversation.”
The bill passed out of committee despite a state law banning the implementation of regulations on plastic bags. The state law blocks municipalities from enacting bag regulations for one year. Squilla amended his bill Tuesday to go into effect on July 2, once the prohibition has lapsed.
Donald Braceland, a member of the West Chester Borough Council, told the Philadelphia Council committee Tuesday that his borough moved forward with the ban despite the state law.
“It’s the right thing to do and I voted yes," Braceland said. “Philadelphia can do it, too.”
The bill’s opponents include the American Forest & Paper Association; a representative for the group spoke out Tuesday against the proposed fee on paper bags. There was no testimony at the hearing from the plastics industry, which has opposed bag bans across the country.
Several Philadelphia residents and environmental advocates testified in favor of the bill. Charito Morales, a neighborhood advocate in North Philadelphia, urged the committee to move forward with the ban to reduce litter.
“We have more plastic bags flying all over my neighborhood than birds," she said.