A City Council committee yesterday approved a ban on plastic bags at supermarkets and pharmacies, despite objections from the plastic industry, bag suppliers and retailers.
Council's Committee on the Environment voted unanimously to endorse the ban, which would require stores to replace plastic bags with recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags or reusable bags.
The ban, which would begin in July 2011 after an education campaign, will likely come up next week for a final vote by the full Council.
Councilmen Frank DiCicco and Jim Kenney proposed the measure in 2007 as a way to cut down on litter. They chafed yesterday at talk that the city was moving too fast on the issue.
Shari Jackson, of Progressive Bag Affiliates, part of the American Chemistry Council, stumbled when Kenney asked what the plastic industry was doing to help Philadelphia eliminate litter.
Jackson described her group's efforts as "in its infancy."
"It's been two years. Don't tell me you're still working on it," Kenney retorted. "Why is it still in my streets and my trees? Why is it still in my river? Why does the city of Philadelphia have to buy a piece of equipment to skim the river to get them out of there?"
Jackson argued that paper bags require more energy to produce and transport than plastic bags. She cited a "litter audit" done in San Francisco last year that found that plastic bags still made up a considerable part of pollution in that city despite a ban on the bags in 2007.
DiCicco and Kenney had alternately proposed a 25-cent fee for plastic bags. That measure won support last month from the committee and had been ready for a final vote by the full Council. But DiCicco pulled back the legislation after some of his colleagues, led by Curtis Jones Jr., had second thoughts.
With the 25-cent fee, retailers with annual sales of more than $1 million would have given 75 percent of the proceeds to the city while smaller retailers would have kept the money.
Jones later said that he had concerns about how the 25-cent fee would impact low-income shoppers. He lobbied for a delay in implementing the plastic-bag ban for two years. If approved, the city will use that time to consult with retailers and environmental advocacy groups on an education campaign for shoppers.
Jones conceded that lobbyists for and against the use of plastic bags have been active.
"On all sides, it was intense," Jones said. "But at the end of the day, we make a decision based on what is the best public policy." *