Plastic bags: A debate today on Radio Times

     What to do about plastic bags.....

      Charge a fee? Encourage more recycling? Ban them? Keep things as they are?

       If you're interested in the issue, tune in to WHYY-FM at 11 a.m. today, for a thorough discussion on Radio Times.

       Guests will include Logan Welde of the Clean Air Council, who has been working with green blogger Julie Hancher. Both have been advocating for a fee -- they call it an "upfront bag fee" because they say grocers embed the cost of all the single-use plastic bags in the cost of the grocers. See what they've been up to recently by visiting Hancher's Green Philly blog.

       In the other corner, Radio Times will have Philip R. Rozenski, policy chair for the American Progressive Bag Alliance and director of sustainability for Hilex Poly Company, LLC, a leading manufacturer of plastic bags, and a leading plastic bag recycler.  The industry favors recyling as a way to stem the tide of plastic bag litter and to save the resources that go into making plastic bags.

      Also on the the show will be Anna Quinn, who will talk about the Philadelphia Farmer's Market efforts to discourage the use of plastic bags -- by handing out 800 donated reusable bags.

      Below are two letters to city council. The first is from Welde and Hancher, the second from Rozenski. 


Dear City Council,

I am writing to address an important issue that affects Philadelphians of various socioeconomic levels, ethnicities and backgrounds: Plastic bags.

Plastic bags are durable, waterproof & can carry 1,000 times their own weight. You will hear many people say that plastic bags are a convenient, necessary part of modern life. This may have been the case when they were first introduced in grocery checkout lines in 1976. But in the last 37 years, we have learned this convenience comes with a dire price.

Take a walk down any Philadelphia street – plastic bags litter the streets, get caught in trees and clog storm water drains.

Plastic bags will never decompose. They photodegrade instead of biodegrade, which means they break into tiny, tiny pieces and stay in our atmosphere forever. Fish ingest these plastic fragments, mistaking them for plankton. That fish you just ate for dinner? It comes with a side of plastic. Appetizing, right?

Philadelphia is not next to an ocean, but the Delaware River flows into the Delaware Bay, where it enters the Atlantic Ocean. When plastic bags get caught in our sewer drains and rivers they are either removed using taxpayer dollars, or continue their course into the Atlantic Ocean.

Guess what gets caught in the water skimmers and in the recycling centers, although they are not allowed in single stream recycling by city law. You guessed it: plastic bags.

You may be aware that some grocery stores offer plastic bag ‘recycling’ programs. However, only one to four percent of plastic bags are captured in these recycling programs. And, it does not reduce the number of plastic bags that each Philadelphian uses each year: over 335/person on average. That adds up to 518 million plastic bags total in Philadelphia alone.

What will the plastic bag program do for Philadelphia? Save millions of plastic bags from streets, waterways and landfills. Save taxpayers money ($.17 per plastic bag) from cleaning the bags from our waterways and streets. Cut down on grocery and shopping prices. Think those plastic bags are free at the checkout counter? While many Philadelphians argue that free plastic bags received at grocery stores can be used for domestic purposes, each shopper still pays for plastic bags because retailers embed the cost in our supermarket bills.

Mayor Nutter boldly declared in 2008 that he wants Philadelphia to be the greenest city in America. However, single-use bag legislation was introduced in 2007 and 2009 and failed both times due to industry lobbyists. Without legislators taking bold actions, it won't happen. Will City Council finally take action in 2013?

On an even more important note, with plastic bag legislation we can allocate the money collected through single-use bag fees to help fund the Philadelphia Public School System. The program can also provide free or cheap reusable bags to those who need them.

We need to take action now to pave a thriving city for our future Philadelphians. I’m urging you, City Council, to take action and implement plastic bag legislation, like many of your constituents.


Julie M. Hancher, Founder & President, Green Philly Blog

Logan Welde, Staff Attorney, Clean Air Council


Dear Councilmembers:

In the debate over the regulation of plastic bags, it’s important to have an open and honest discussion based on factual data. I want to address some of the common misperceptions voiced in this debate. The American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) believes that when people have access to the full facts, they will realize that plastic bag bans and taxes are deeply flawed policies and that a robust recycling program is the better alternative.

The ramifications of plastic bag bans and taxes are actually much more serious than many wellintentioned environmentalists believe. Plastic bag bans hurt the environment by pushing people towards alternatives that actually contribute more to global warming and put the jobs of the 30,800 Americans depending on our industry in jeopardy. Finally, these policies move us further away from the real sustainable solution: recycling.

There is no question that reusable bags have become a popular accessory recently. What’s less-known are their environmental impacts. Many reusable bags are made of heavy-duty plastic bags that are produced from oil, unlike American plastic bags which use natural gas, and are generally imported from overseas. Moreover, cloth bags may seem more “natural,” but the materials used to produce them are grown with massive quantities of water and pesticides. In either case, the lifecycle of reusable bags will emit far more greenhouse gases than plastic retail bags. We also know that these bags are not really being reused because the U.S. imports 500 million of them every year: more than enough for every American household.

It is also difficult to understand why some environmentalists have targeted plastic bags and not paper alternatives, which come from trees. Our product was actually invented in part to mitigate the impact on trees caused by paper bag production, and yet paper bags have become fashionable. Beyond the fact that producing paper bags requires the destruction of trees, they are also seven times larger—this means they require seven times as many trucks on the road to transport. Moreover, it takes a gallon of water to make just one paper bag.

The environment is not the only loser when plastic bag bans are passed. An industry that supports the livelihoods of 30,800 Americans brings consistent recycling innovation to the table and provides a lowimpact and sanitary product also loses out. It might not get as much attention as a tech start-up, but

Hilex Poly has produced one of the most important innovations in recycling in recent memory: the ability to reduce the need for virgin material through closed-loop recycling. The companies within the

APBA have led the charge on recycling partnerships and innovation and we have seen results: plastic bag recycling has grown for nine years straight. We believe that all plastic bags should be reused or recycled and we are proud of the progress we have made towards that goal.

Philadelphia has a great opportunity to lead the country in sound environmental policy. We all share this planet, and there is no reason why our two sides cannot come together to reach a meaningful recycling solution. For us, that means bringing groundbreaking recycling solutions to the table, while providing a product that is far lower in its environmental impacts than the alternatives. Our belief is that partnership and common ground, not conflict, is the way to solve environmental challenges.


Philip R. Rozenski, Policy Chair for the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA)

Director of Sustainability for Hilex Poly Company, LLC.