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April 13, 2022

Haverford Township bans plastic bags as more suburban towns begin to take action

The ordinance will not be enforced until January 2023 to allow a period of adjustment for retailers to transition away

Plastic bag bans are becoming more popular in Pennsylvania's towns, as Haverford Township became the first in Delaware County to pass one on Monday. 

The Board of Commissioners approved the single-use plastic ordinance in an 8-1 vote, hoping to start a trend in the rest of the suburban county. Beginning in January 2023, businesses will no longer be permitted to provide customers with plastic take-out bags or beverage stirrers and plastic straws will only be available upon request.

Other municipalities, like Radnor Township and Tredyffrin Township, Chester County, are currently considering their own single-use plastic ordinances. West Chester has had success in implementing its ban on plastic bags, which the Borough began enforcing on Jan. 1. 

The primary reason for the ordinance is to reduce the overall amount of plastic litter in Haverford Township and protect the area from damages due to climate change and excess debris. As single-use plastic bags, beverage stirrers and straws degrade at a slower rate than recyclable alternatives, enacting significant restrictions on them is meant to improve the health of the environment and its people, the ordinance says.

"I think it's no secret that at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year and this makes up about 80% of all marine debris that are found in our surface waters, too, I think even the deep sea sediments," Commissioner Steve D'Emilio told WHYY. "So, marine species are ingesting, or they're getting entangled by plastic debris. It's causing severe injuries and sometimes death." 

Excessive plastic pollution in Haverford Township has become a nuisance for taxpayers, as the cost burden for clean-up efforts rest with them. The ordinance notes that plastic bags and other single-use plastic pollution is visible throughout the Township, impacting quality of life in the community.

Joy Baxter, a resident of Havertown who spoke in favor of the ordinance at Monday night's meeting, referenced her teenaged sons. She said that her son and his friends enjoy spending time along Darby Creek and previously wrote to the Board of Commissioners about enacting a ban in order to reduce litter in the community's waterways.

"For those commissioners that have expressed opinions that the state should act instead of our local municipalities, I ask you: who pays for the storm drain clean-up? The taxpayers of Haverford Township," said Baxter. "We are already the ones dealing with the impacts of single-use plastic litter. We should be the ones enacting legislation to deal with it." 

In her testimony, Baxter pointed to the success of of a plastic ban in San Jose, California, which saw a two-thirds reduction in plastic pollution in rivers and a 50% reduction in plastic litter in neighborhoods. Reusable bag use increased from 4% to 62% in the town, while customers choosing to go without bags at all increased from 19% to 43%. 

Just one commissioner voted against the ordinance. Commissioner Conor Quinn originally voted against the measure during a previous reading of the ordinance on March 7. His opposing vote is based primarily around the inclusion of plastic straws in the ban. Though restaurants would still be allowed to provide plastic straws under the new ban, customers must ask for them. 

Quinn told WHYY that, because of his work with people living with ALS — many of which would need straws in public places — he does not believe that those people should have to go out of their way to ask for them. 

The Haverford Township community has received a lot of support for its ban and Commissioner Larry Holmes said following its passage that he hopes the ordinance will be the first of many in Delaware County and the rest of the state. D'Emilio, who retired on Monday night, said that he hopes federal lawmakers will eventually consider a national ban. 

Though the ban will not go into effect or be enforced until January 2023, there will be a period of adjustment for retailers to transition away from single-use plastics. Those who violate the ban could incur a $500 fine. 

"Plastic bags are the poster child for the environmental harm caused by single-use plastics," said Faran Savitz, a zero waste advocate at PennEnvironment. "Nothing we use for a few minutes, such as single-use plastic bags, should be allowed to litter our communities, pollute our environment, and fill our landfills and incinerators for hundreds of years to come." 

Savitz added that there is large support for plastic bag bans in Pennsylvania, although a moratorium extended by state legislators in summer 2021 led to many already-approved bans to be delayed. The measure postponed imposing fees on single-use plastics or banning plastic bags for up to six months following Gov. Wolf lifting the state's COVID-19 disaster emergency. 

Officials in Philadelphia, West Chester, Narberth and Lower Merion Township responded to the legislation with a lawsuit, claiming that state lawmakers acted in an "undemocratic" manner by imposing a moratorium on bans that had already been approved. 

Each of the municipalities had either already approved or were planning to approve a plastic bag ban or a fee on the distribution of single-use plastics. As both West Chester and Philly began enforcing their bag bans this year, efforts to enact them in other municipalities have gained traction. 

During last year's state Senate session, former Sen. John Sabatina introduced a bill that would ban the single-use plastics from being handed out by retailers and would allow counties to opt-in for a 5-cent fee on paper bags. The bill stalled in a Senate committee on Finance in July. 

A proposed ordinance in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County, which includes portions of Paoli and Chesterbrook, was first introduced in January following the success of West Chester's bag ban. Township officials consulted with PennEnvironment in a "step down approach" to implementing a ban. 

In March, an ordinance to ban plastic bags in Radnor Township, Delaware County was introduced to the Township's Environmental Advisory Council. 

"Every year, Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic bags a year. These bags require fossil fuels for production," Margaret Reinhart, chair of the Advisory Council, told Patch. "Plastic bags take hundreds of years to degrade, and when they do, they become small toxic micro-particles, many of which are consumed by humans and other animals. Radnor Township, along with other area townships, would like to do its part in improving this situation." 

The ban would include a $50 fine for a first violation, followed by $100 for a second offense and at least $200 for a third offense.