Allegheny County Council could consider a ban on single-use plastic bags at checkouts. The council’s Committee on Sustainability and Green Initiatives held a hearing about the issue on Wednesday, where they heard from experts and residents about how they might address plastic pollution in the county.
According to the environmental advocacy group Penn Environment, Pennsylvanians use an estimated 4.75 billion single-use plastic bags annually, few of which are ever properly recycled. Plastic also breaks up into microplastics, tiny particles of plastic that have been found in local waterways and even in humans.
Of the nearly 7,000 pounds of trash collected during an audit by Allegheny CleanWays in 2019, the “vast majority” of it was plastic, said the group’s executive director Myrna Newman.
“Because we use [plastic products] in so many parts of our lives, and often for just a few minutes before throwing them away, there is no ‘away,’” Faran Savitz, a zero waste advocate with Penn Environment, told the committee. “If it’s ending up in a landfill, if it’s ending up in our rivers, our parks, upstream, up street, these plastic products are hurting us.”
Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation to ban the use of single-use plastic bags in city limits last year. It will go into effect this spring.
Councilor Erika Strassburger, who sponsored the bill, walked committee members through the process City Council undertook before passing their ban. After months of discussions with unions, environmental groups, business owners and others, the final legislation banned single-use plastic bags. Instead, shoppers or customers getting takeout from a restaurant must bring their own reusable bag or pay a 10-cent fee to receive a paper bag.
County Council members said they still have a lot of questions about how a similar ban would be successfully implemented in Allegheny County, which includes 130 municipalities. But Council member Anita Prizio, who chairs the Sustainability and Green Initiatives committee, said council is “very seriously” considering a ban on single-use plastic bags.