Pittsburgh to consider restrictions on plastic bags

Tom Davidson, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·3 min read

May 4—Pittsburgh City Council will be considering legislation to restrict single-use plastic bags under a resolution introduced Tuesday by Councilwoman Erika Strassburger.

"It's not the kind of product that should be used once and then thrown away," Strassburger said. "If we're truly going to have a circular economy, we have to think about how we're using plastic."

Legislation to enact any restrictions has not been drafted. Municipalities in Pennsylvania are prohibited from putting bans on single-use plastics in place until at least July under a provision legislators added to a 2020 budget bill.

But Philadelphia officials, joined by officials in West Chester, Narberth and Lower Merion, sued the state in March, contending prohibitions on local legislation are unconstitutional.

Pittsburgh may intervene in support of the lawsuit, Strassburger said.

She introduced the legislation Tuesday that signals the city's intent to pursue a law restricting the single-use plastic bags and it will be discussed during council's committee meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Plastic bags harm the city's recycling machinery and hamper the recycling process, Strassburger said, and are also are generally harmful to the environment.

Because the state requires municipalities to provide recycling programs and plastic bags make it harder to recycle, municipalities should be allowed to enact restrictions, she said.

Before council enacts any legislation, it will talk with environmental and sustainability groups and businesses to find ways to lessen the impact of any restrictions, she said.

"What would make it easier on retailers so this is a benefit?" is one of the questions Strassburger said she hopes can be answered.

O'Hara-based Giant Eagle had been working to remove single-use plastic bags from its stores, but paused the effort in March 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, spokesman Dick Roberts said.

"As we balance the CDC's assurances that the risk of transmission of COVID-19 on food packaging is very low with ongoing concerns from select team members and customers, we have been thoughtful in how we reintroduce reusable bag use by customers," Roberts said. "We are currently finalizing plans to allow reusable bag use across all checkout lanes. We are hopeful that the science will continue to build confidence in the use and handling of reusable bags, and that this will allow us to relaunch our single-use plastic bag efforts in Pittsburgh and other markets in the coming months."

The action by council was lauded by Philadelphia based group PennEnvironment's Conservation Associate Faran Savitz.

"Single-use plastic is the most common type of litter in Pennsylvania and it poses a danger to our rivers, streams, and wildlife," Savitz said in a statement. "Passing this resolution sends a clear message to our leaders in Harrisburg: if the General Assembly won't take action to fight plastic pollution, cities have the will, and the state government needs to give them the way."

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, tdavidson@triblive.com or via Twitter .