It has been a long time coming, but starting Friday, Philadelphia’s ban on single-use plastic bags is now in effect.
The ban, which was passed in 2019 but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prevents stores from giving customers single-use plastic bags or non-recyclable paper bags. Businesses that are not complying will only be given a warning through April 1, 2022, at which point full enforcement – meaning fines starting at $75 per violation and possible further action in court – will begin.
Philadelphia uses an estimated one billion plastic bags per year, which litter the streets, waterways and commercial corridors of the city.
“Philadelphia remains committed to advancing our environmental goals, and the ban on single-use plastic bags will be an important step forward to achieve those goals,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a written statement. “We also understand this is a major change for businesses, which is why we built out an extended education and warning period to ensure widespread awareness of the law to our diverse business owners and to residents and consumers.”
The ban includes certain exemptions, including bags used inside stores to package unwrapped food items, flowers, potted plants and dry-cleaned clothing. Bags intended for use as garbage bags or to contain pet waste and yard waste will also be exempt.
The city maintains other goals of the ban include reducing litter, saving money and keeping staff safe during the recycling process. People often try to recycle plastic bags curbside – which is prohibited – causing the bags to get stuck in the recycling equipment and leading to dangerous conditions for recycling center staff, as well as high costs, according to the city.
Plastic bags account for more than 150 hours of lost time at the recycling facility, costing $300,000 each year, the city says.
GovLabPHL, an initiative led by the Mayor’s Policy Office, will work with City departments and other research partners to determine the success of the ban. The evaluation will examine what type of bags people use, as well as plastic bag litter and waste across the city.
To help people adapt to the ban, Wawa on Friday will give out 1,000 free reusable bags at all its Philadelphia stores starting at 7 a.m.