Editorial: To Pennsylvania legislature: End the ban on the plastic bag ban

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We would love to address this editorial to the city of Bethlehem, and urge them to pass a ban or a tax on plastic bags right now. 

We would love to tell Bethlehem City Council to put its money where its mouth is on climate change. 

We would love to see our community take a stand and be a leader on the issue that represents the greatest threat to our and future generations’ survival. 

The problem is, it’s not Bethlehem’s fault. 

It’s our state legislature’s and governor’s fault. 

Harrisburg is the one hamstringing municipalities all over the state from doing the morally right thing and banning plastic bags. 

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a 69-page bill on June 28, 2019, which included a three-paragraph provision barring municipalities from banning or taxing plastic bags. The ban on the ban is in effect for one year while legislative agencies study the issue, according to CBS Pittsburgh

This was nothing more than a political move to appease plastics manufacturers in the state. It’s not about the research. The research is clear. 

Philadelphia, for example, uses about one billion plastic bags every year, according to the Clean Air Council. Plastic is a material that is not recyclable and takes about 500 years to decompose. In the meantime, it litters our streets, washes up on our shorelines, kills animals and enters our waterways. 

A trial at the Medical University in Vienna studied eight people’s digestive tracts from eight different countries. Tiny pieces of plastic were found in all eight. Plastic consumption came through eating fish, drinking out of plastic water bottles and even tiny plastic particles floating in the air that then landed on food. 

That’s pretty scary.

What’s even scarier is that certain chemicals found in plastics, like bisphenol A, can possibly cause cancer at certain exposure levels.

It’s pretty clear: Plastic is killing us. Humans’ inability to recognize that a product we are manufacturing that doesn’t exist in the natural world could result in our own decline as a species.

This isn’t some far-fetched eco-movement to “save the turtles.” Although it benefits them, too, this is about the survival of humans.

But the best part about a plastic bag ban is that yes, it works. A Vox article from August 2019 found that while legislative bodies should be careful to also include provisions against paper bags, which are harmful as well, a plastic bag ban and tax policy enacted in Chicago led to “a large decrease in the proportion of consumers using a disposable bag, with roughly half of consumers switching to reusable bags while the rest opted for no bags at all.”

A ban on single-use plastic bags and a tax on paper bags in San Jose, California, led to a dramatic decrease in “bag litter” in the city’s waterways. A survey found an 89 percent reduction in bag litter in the storm drain system.  

Ultimately, Gov. Wolf, these bans will happen, at least in Pennsylvania’s bigger municipalities. Anyone can see the way this issue is trending. And the bans work.

But delaying towns like Bethlehem, who had previously expressed a desire to ban the plastic bag, is inhumane and puts our state government on the wrong side of history. It puts Harrisburg in a position of directly interfering with the will of a municipality and that city’s elected legislative body. 

The evidence is clear. There is no reason to wait another year, where billions of new plastic bags will infect Pennsylvania’s beauty, strangle its waterways and harm its residents. 

To Harrisburg: do the right thing and lift the ban on the ban.

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3 Comments

  1. As you fill your plastic bag at the store with plastic bottles ,plastic packaging, plastic cartons.
    And think the bags are the problem.
    The so called multi use bags has a larger carbon footprint then single use bags

    • Single use plastic bags should not be banned but simply landfilled. They should not be recycled & then sent to China for resorting. Stop trying to legislate behavior like a nanny state socialist!! Todd makes sense-you don’t.

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