One hundred billion plastic bags pass through the hands of U.S. consumers every year — almost one bag per person each day, according to Earth Policy Institute. But only about 1 percent of these bags are recycled, leaving the rest to litter our streets, pollute our waterways, and stress our landfills.
Yet, despite opposition from numerous municipalities, municipal associations, and environmental groups, the Pennsylvania House recently passed legislation that would prevent local governments from enacting laws to address their plastic bag problems.
House Bill 1071 would prohibit Pennsylvania cities, counties, townships, and boroughs from imposing a ban, fee, tax, or surcharge on single-use plastic bags at retail stores.
This legislation is being driven by Novolex, one of the world's largest manufacturers of single-use plastic bags. Novolex owns the Helix Poly plant in Milesburg, Pa. — an area that is represented by one of the prime sponsors of the bill. Novolex has been active in promoting this type of legislation in other states.
Currently, 165 municipalities across the United States have adopted some form of single-use plastic bag legislation, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York City, according to the Plastic Ban Bag Report, a national advocacy group.
The evidence shows that this legislation has been effective. Following implementation of a citywide 5-cent-per-bag fee in 2010, the presence of bags in Washington decreased by about 67 percent.
The bill is opposed by most municipal associations, including the Pennsylvania Municipal League, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, and the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs.
"If an elected governing body wished to incentivize the use of reusable bags, promote less waste in landfills, and promote less trash on roadsides, it should be afforded the autonomy to make that decision" the Pennsylvania Municipal League recently wrote.
In 2015, City Council introduced legislation that would impose a fee on single-use plastic bags. H. B. 1071, if enacted, would prevent Philadelphia from moving forward with that bill.
In a recent letter to state lawmakers, Council urged opposition to the bill: "By prohibiting a potential revenue source to fund worthy initiatives such as waste removal, H.B. 1071 further ties municipalities' hands and places a greater burden on individuals and businesses that pay property taxes."
The bill is also opposed by numerous environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Penn Future, PennEnvironment, and Clean Water Action. Plastic bags cause harm to oceans, rivers, lakes, forests, and the wildlife that inhabit them.
The bill now moves to the state Senate for consideration. Concerned citizens should urge their senator to oppose this legislation and ask Gov. Wolf to veto it should it reach his desk.