Pittsburgh Latest City to Ban Plastic Bags

The Pittsburgh City Council voted last week to ban the use of single-use plastic bags by retail stores in the next year.

By a unanimous vote, the council mandated that retail sellers and restaurants must end the use of the bags by April 2023. Customers will be obligated to provide their own reusable bags at stores or restaurants or purchase paper bags at a fixed cost of 10 cents each from the businesses.

Some uses are exempted from the ban, including packaged groceries like meats and produce and garbage collection bags. The mandatory charge of 10 cents per paper bag will not apply to customers on public assistance or social service programs.

The bill was introduced by Councilmember Erika Strassburger, who said plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes before being “gone forever.” She said that there are many reasons to ban the bags to improve quality of life, for public health, and to “just make Pittsburgh a better place to live.”

The ban was opposed in Pittsburgh as it has been in other cities by the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance. That group argues that fees for paper bags hurt lower-income families and the single-use plastic bag design is not a major source of litter. They claim the bags are a smarter and more environmentally friendly option for retailers and consumers.

The Pittsburgh ban follows a similar measure enacted earlier this month by Philadelphia. The ban there, however, includes fines up to $150 per violation.

California enacted a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in 2017. The measure has led to multiple enforcement problems and last year a state commission demanded that authorities tighten up enforcement against retailers it accused of avoiding the regulations. The allegation is that retailers are using plastic bags that are falsely labeled as being recyclable.

Heidi Sanborn, chair of the California Statewide Commission on Recycling Markets and Curbside Recycling said that recycling labeling in the state is a “Wild West” with “no sheriff in town.”

An editorial published last week by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review noted that the ban in Pittsburgh will likely impose costs on many of the smaller towns and communities in the metropolitan area. Since retailers in the largest city in the area will be compelled to change their way of doing business there, it stands to reason that they will implement the changes in places outside the city as well.