PennEnvironment Statement: Response to Philadelphia’s Earth Day announcement to delay plastic bag ban law

Wrong-headed policy proposed on the wrong day

PHILADELPHIA – As Philadelphia and the nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day (April 22nd) and looked for proactive policies to protect the environment, the city surprised PennEnvironment, elected officials and others by announcing a 10-month delay of the implementation of the city’s single-use plastic bag ban legislation that passed City Council in December 2019.  

PennEnvironment’s Executive Director David Masur issued the following statement:

“Earth Day is a day to recognize the threats facing our planet and take concrete steps to tackle those threats. There may not be a clearer poster child for the environmental harms facing our planet than the images of seabirds strangling on plastic bags and sea turtles choking on them.  Here in Philadelphia, we experience this pollution first-hand with plastic bag litter lowing through our neighborhoods and city streets, floating in our rivers and streams, and stuck in trees, polluting our parks and other outdoor places.

It is so disappointing that of all possible days, city officials chose the 50th anniversary of Earth Day to announce a significant delay of the most important environmental law passed in Philadelphia in a long time. This is ill-timed and tone deaf on this special day. 

Support for tackling the pervasive pollution from single-use plastic bags is broad and deep. Poll after poll shows that the public wants to reduce single use plastic pollution. In fact, a recent poll showed that 66% of Americans support phasing out single-use plastics. 

Neither the public nor stakeholder organizations were asked for input on how to best address these challenges when it comes to this particular policy. It’s unfortunate that after years of accepting input from environmental advocates, the general public and legislators, city officials took such significant steps unilaterally. 

PennEnvironment is sympathetic to the fact that we must review many policies and decisions we make in a world where protecting yourself from the coronavirus is paramount. But in this case, the city is throwing the bag policy out with the bath water.  When it comes to our environment, our planet always loses when we try to do surgery with a pickaxe. 

At the same time, most cities and states around the country are keeping their plastic bag bans in place right now, and providing paper bags for shoppers who need groceries bagged by someone else. 

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day should be a day we look back upon and fondly reflect on the positive steps that individuals and elected officials took to protect our planet for future generations. Instead, delaying this single-use plastics policy will ensure thatPhiladelphians remember Earth Day 2020 as a day when a poorly executed decision dishonored the spirit of the event.” 

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PennEnvironment is a statewide citizen-based environmental advocacy group dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit www.PennEnvironment.org.