By Ann Belser
We have one month left to forget our reusable bags in the car and use store-provided plastic bags when we go shopping: The plastic bag ban goes into effect on Oct. 14.
When the ban is fully in effect, shoppers who want bags will either have to provide their own, buy a reusable bag from the retailer, or pay 10 cents for a recycled paper shopping bag.
Not all plastic bags will be banned. Those used for produce and bulk goods, the plastic to wrap meat, prepared foods and flowers; and product packaging by the manufacturer will still be allowed.
The ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags was passed by City Council on April 11 and signed by Mayor Ed Gainey on April 17 to go into effect on Oct. 14.
“What we really want is culture change,” City Councilmember Erika Strassburger, D-Squirrel Hill, who sponsored the ordinance, said. “We want people to bring reusable bags.”
That doesn’t mean that all businesses that provide shoppers with plastic bags will immediately stop using them.
Businesses will have some time to get rid of the bags through regular use. Tobias Raether, the environmental enforcement manager in the city’s Department of Public Works, said he wants to see the use of plastic bags ended “no later than January 1.”
The legislation calling for the ban allows businesses 18 months to use the bags they have on hand. But after that, “retail establishments are prohibited from providing a single-use plastic bag or a non-recycled paper bag to a customer at the retail establishment or through a delivery.”
“If a business has a large supply of plastic bags, we don’t want them throwing them all out,” said Alicia Carberry, recycling supervisor in the city’s Department of Public Works.
Philadelphia passed a similar ordinance that banned single-use bags made using a blown-film extrusion process. And like in Pittsburgh, the paper bags allowed under the ban in Philadelphia have to be made using more than 40% recycled paper. Philadelphia had wanted to pass a plastic bag ban earlier, but in 2019 the state legislature prohibited cities from instituting such bans. That prohibition was dropped after Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and three other municipalities filed a lawsuit against the legislature.
One reason for the ban is that bags in the recycling stream clog the conveyors the recycling sorters use. The expense of manually removing each bag led Pittsburgh to distribute blue recycling cans throughout the city to replace the bags.
Councilor Strassburger said Pittsburgh’s bag ban was delayed because the blue plastic bags handed out to shoppers were instrumental to the city’s recycling program, but now that the program to distribute blue recycling cans to residents is nearly complete, the bags can be eliminated.
At first, Philadelphia did not charge for paper bags, but now retailers in the city are required to. Mr. Raether said, “Ten cents is right about the amount needed to nudge customers away from bags.”
“Here, that bag money will go back to businesses,” Ms. Carberry said, noting that it will cover the cost of the paper bags. She said the city is also encouraging businesses to sell their own branded reusable bags. Strassburger said she would like to see a Pittsburgh-branded bag.
Mr. Raether said the city has been focusing on informing retailers that the ban is going into effect, but he knows that as of Oct. 14, not all of the city’s 6,000 retail businesses and restaurants will realize the ban is in place.
As the enforcement manager, Raether will first issue a business a warning for violating the ban. A second violation could bring a $100 fine and a third a $250 fine.
This is a condensed version of an article that first appeared in Print community newspaper. It is shared through the Pittsburgh Community Newspaper network.