Media Zero Waste/Recycling: Plastic Bags Bans – Yes or No and Who Should Decide?

“We don’t need a handful of people doing Zero Waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” –Anne-Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef

The Media Recycling Team continues to ponder the problem with plastics.

If I had a dime for every time I heard the comment that Media Borough should join our neighbor states New York State and New Jersey in banning single use plastic bags in stores, I could buy myself a reusable shopping bag.  Many of us are increasingly concerned about the scourge of litter and microplastic pollution caused by single-use plastics such as plastic bags and foam takeout food containers.  Maybe it is just who I hang out with.  

And then there is my brother-in-law in New York State’s Southern Tier, who started hoarding plastic bags early this year when he heard the ban was coming.  He now has a lifetime supply which he will give up only when they are pried from his cold dead fingers.  And I do hang out with him. 

Whichever side of the issue you are on, municipalities in PA currently have no choice in the matter.  In the summer of 2019, leaders in the state General Assembly added language into a must-pass budget bill that implemented a 12-month preemption, prohibiting Pennsylvania cities and towns from implementing local policies to ban or put fees on, single-use plastics such as plastic bags, straws, plastic foam takeout food containers or other single-use plastics plaguing our environment.  

“Advanced” Recycling?: Last month this column described lobbying efforts of the plastics industry to sway the PA General Assembly to promote legislation favoring “chemical recycling” and plastic-to-fuel (aka “pyrolysis”).  Billed as a solution to the plastic pollution and climate crisis, pyrolysis facilities, in actuality, produce toxic chemicals, like persistent organic pollutants (POPs), lead, arsenic, mercury, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and create harmful emissions.  Environmental groups such as PennEnvironment point out that rather than an answer to plastic pollution, pyrolysis is a distraction from real solutions– such as plastic reduction.  On November 18, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed House Bill 1808, which would promote burning plastics and turning them into crude oil and jet fuels under the guise of “recycling.” HB 1808 would also weaken pollution control standards for facilities where plastic-to-fuel processes take place, while incentivizing the production of more single-use plastic.  PennEnvironment, in a statement, called on Governor Wolf to veto the bill, saying, “Just like calling a hot dog ‘sushi’ doesn’t make it sushi, calling burning plastics ‘recycling’ doesn’t change what it is: just another way to burn fossil fuels.”

To see PennEnvironment’s statement click here .  To keep up with PennEnvironment’s work on environmental issues, text Zero Waste PA to 21333

Previous to the ban, Narberth had passed a plastic-bag ban ordinance, which is currently in effect.  Philadelphia passed a bag ban into law in December 2019 that is due to go into effect in January 2021.  Other PA municipalities are considering measures of this kind.  Philadelphia is now planning to sue the state over the preemption bill.

Other states have declined to pass preemption bills like Pennsylvania’s.  In 2018, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy vetoed such a bill, and in September the NJ Assembly passed the nation’s most comprehensive plastics legislation on Sept. 24, sending a bill to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk that would ban single-use plastic bags and paper bags at large grocery stores, prohibit polystyrene foam containers at restaurants, and make plastic straws with meals by-request only, beginning in spring 2022.

How to Recycle in Media: For more information on Media Recycling—what, when and how to recycle—click here.

For more on the General Assembly preemption legislation…Visit:   

Click Here for more on other efforts to address plastic pollution.   

Should local government have the power to address environmental issues that negatively affect their constituents?  

Plastic pollution litters our streets, parks, and waterways, and threatens our native wildlife. Cleanup costs for our roads, streets, and sewer systems ends up imposing millions of dollars in cleanup costs for taxpayers and local rate payers.

So, two questions for Media Borough residents and business owners – Write in any thoughts you have on these questions, and we may publish your responses in an upcoming newsletter.:

Author: Karen Taussig-Lux