Plastic Pollution Problem: State legislature stops cities from curtailing single-use plastic bags

02 (OPINION) - Teds 8-23 Plastic bags

Many of us go to the supermarket, corner market or drug store and happily wait while a clerk conveniently places our purchases in one or more plastic bags.  The ease of this practice, however, obscures how much our dependence on plastic bags, bottles and other packaging is damaging our environment! 
⁍ We can measure in minutes the “use-time” it takes for clerks to drop our groceries into plastic bags,
get them home, put them on the shelf and pitch the bags in the trash.
⁍ Environmental scientists tell us, however, that those plastic containers have a “trash-life” in our landfills which is measured in centuries.

Recognizing this reality, City Councilman Mark Squilla had submitted four bills over the past 12-years trying to curtail plastic bag use. His latest version offered in Council last June 20 combined a ban on single-use plastic bags for retail goods except for loose produce, meat and fish, and a 15-cent charge on other plastic bags. To improve the chances for its approval, free distribution of reusable bags to low- income families was also included. 

On Tuesday night, August 6, however, the conservative leaders of the Pennsylvania General Assembly reacted to the possible approval of Mr. Sqillla’s plan – under the influence of oil, plastics, and retail lobbyists. Into the “must-pass” PA budget bill, they stealthily slipped a provision that barred cities around the state from putting such fees or other restrictions on retail sales involving single-use plastics containers for the next 12-months.

Studies show that single-use plastics burden our landfills and pollute our waterways and oceans, and even our air with devastating effects on fish and wildlife – and eventually to us human beings.  Until recently, these environmental risks were minimized – for us – by shipping our trash to China. The Chinese figured out last year that this was a bad deal for them and have stopped accepting the shipments!

Quoted on Mr. Squilla’s website, The Clean Air Council says the city of Philadelphia uses roughly one billion single-use plastic and paper bags each year. “That is an astonishing amount of waste,” said Clean Air Council Staff Attorney Logan Welde. “…and this legislation will likely reduce single-bag usage by almost 85%.”

Sadly, the Republican legislators’ restrictions on sensible initiatives like Councilman Squilla’s will force us to wait until next year for Philadelphia to take the national lead in preserving our environment.

Photo credit: Great Beyond via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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