Jeff Brown, the owner of six ShopRite and Fresh Grocer stores in Philadelphia who has successfully lobbied against previous efforts to ban plastic bags in the city, said Thursday that he will not oppose the latest proposed ban.
Councilman Mark Squilla introduced legislation in June that would ban single-use plastic bags in the city and impose a 15-cent fee on paper or other bags that retailers provide to customers. Brown, in his first public comments on the bill, said in an interview Thursday that he plans to stay out of the debate this time.
“Businesses in general are never crazy about their clients having to pay fees, but on the other hand this is a movement that’s sweeping the country and is probably going to end up everywhere,” Brown said.
Brown’s change in position could boost the legislation’s chances of passage. He was among those who successfully lobbied against three prior attempts to regulate plastic bag use — in 2015, 2009, and 2007. Brown said Squilla spoke with him before introducing the latest bill, and he told Squilla he wouldn’t fight it.
The proposal does face other hurdles. State lawmakers passed legislation this year prohibiting bans on plastic bags for one year, but Squilla said he hopes to get around that by having the bill take effect after that year has passed. The law also asked two state offices to look into the impact of such bans. The plastic industry is also likely to fight it. The American Progressive Bag Alliance, an industry lobbying group, said in June that the bill would hurt already overtaxed residents.
Squilla said he worked to talk to different stakeholders like Brown before proposing the bill, which he sees as an important move toward reusable products instead of disposable ones.
“Not everybody still agrees, and we have to do a little more legwork,” he said
Despite the statewide ban, City Council’s Licenses and Inspections Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday.
Mayor Jim Kenney supports the intent of the proposal and the administration will testify in support of it at next week’s hearing, Kenney’s spokesperson Mike Dunn said.
When a 2009 plastic bag ban sponsored by then-Councilman Kenney failed, Kenney denounced Brown and said he would urge shoppers to “spend their money elsewhere.”
Brown still stopped short of supporting the latest bill, saying he will simply not be involved.
“We understand the environmental impact and the litter impact,” he said. “We feel that it’s not a place for business to be interjecting itself.”
Brown and Kenney remain at odds over the city’s tax on soda and other sweetened beverages. The 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax is the signature legislation of Kenney’s first term as mayor, and is used to fund pre-K, community schools, and improvements to parks, libraries, and recreation centers.
Brown has criticized the tax as regressive and said it hurts his customers and his business. He closed a West Philadelphia ShopRite store in March and blamed the tax for a loss in sales. A Key Food store is expected to replace the ShopRite this fall, and Kenney has accused Brown of making the tax a scapegoat for his store’s struggles.
Brown, who owns stores in low-income neighborhoods, said the bag proposal is not as regressive as the beverage tax because customers can avoid increased costs by using their own bags. But he said he thinks the 15-cent fee for non-plastic bags is too high. Retailers would keep the fee under the proposed bill, and Squilla said Thursday that Council would consider lowering that fee.
Brown said he has changed his opinion on bag bans, in part, because so many other cities now have them.
“We don’t have as much the fear of the unknown," he said, “because it’s been done in so many places and it’s not the boogey monster."
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of grocery stores Jeff Brown owns in Philadelphia.