Prove your humanity

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After months of deliberation, Pittsburgh City Council voted Wednesday morning to preliminarily approve legislation that would ban single-use plastic bags.

The bill would bar retailers from using single-use plastic bags during check out: Shoppers would have to either bring reusable bags or can purchase a paper bag at a fee of 10 cents per bag.

Councilor Erika Strassburger spearheaded the legislation and said after the meeting that she spent months speaking to residents, business owners and advocates to address concerns about the original legislation.

“What we honed in on is a need for a strong communications and marketing campaign to get the word out,” Strassburger said. “And the need to raise funds for reusable-bags distribution.”

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Changes to the most recent version of the bill included giving the city one year before the law goes into effect — up from six months — changing the fee amount for paper bags, and exempting certain shoppers from paying it.

“[One year] really gives everyone the opportunity and the time to ramp up and prepare for the implementation of this bill and enforcement of the bill,” Strassburger said. “For restaurants and retailers … it’s a little bit more time to get ready for this. For consumers, it’s time to understand what is and isn’t allowed after this goes into effect. For the city, it’s time to educate as many people as possible.”

Strassburger said the city would also take the year to help businesses with measures that could include providing funds to buy paper bags or supplying them with reusable bags.

During the public-comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting, most speakers supported the bill, but there were concerns about the fee for paper bags. Those were picked up by the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, an industry group that opposes the measure. In a statement, the group said the ban was “tone deaf” considering rising inflation costs, while saying that many reusable bags were “imported from some of the worst polluting countries in the world.”

Earlier versions of the legislation set the fee at 15 cents a bag, 5 cents more than the new bill charges. And the legislation also now waives the fee for those using benefits like food stamps or WIC.

“We know this is not going to capture the whole universe of people who are low-income or shopping at stores where those benefits aren’t used but it’s a start,” Strassburger said.

Council is set to have a final vote on the bill next week.