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June 30, 2021

Philly plastic bag ban takes effect July 1: What you need to know

The first nine months of enforcement will be education-focused, allowing businesses and customers to adjust to the change

Government Sustainability
Plastic Bag Ban Anthony Behar/SIPA USA

Philadelphia's plastic bag ban begins July 1. There will be a nine-month transition period during which business will not be penalized for providing customers with the bags. By Oct. 1 retailers are supposed to stop distributing the bags and on April 1, 2022, businesses found to be still providing the bags will be fined $75 per infraction.

Philadelphia's single-use, plastic bag ban goes into effect Thursday, July 1, after months of delays caused by the pandemic.

The ban starts with a nine-month awareness campaign and warning period before the full enforcement takes effect. This is intended to provide businesses time to prepare and comply with the law, city officials say.

Single-use plastic bags will be 100% banned on Oct. 1, meaning retailers will no longer be able to provide them to customers beginning on that date.

All retail establishments must have signage posted by Aug. 1 notifying customers of the switch.

City council passed the ban in December 2019, though the pandemic caused two separate six-month delays to the roll out, one in April 2020 and another in January 2021.

The city is providing businesses with downloadable signage that they can print and display in their stores to notify customers, as well as a flyer with frequently asked questions. City officials also hosted three virtual business information sessions, recordings of which can still be streamed online.

Philadelphians use nearly 1 billion plastic bags each year, according the the city's statistics. These bags are not recyclable in Philadelphia's single-stream, residential recycling program, despite that they are often marked with recycling symbols, suggesting that they are.

Still, many single-use, plastic bags end up in residential recycling bins, and that's a problem. Officials say bags get caught in the recycling equipment at the city's processing facility, and this accounts for up to 10,000 hours of work by Street's Department employees.

In a 2018 interview about what can and cannot be recycled in Philadelphia, Scott McGrath, of the Streets Department, explained that "... plastic bags tear and wrap around the processing machines and systems. If you really want to get them recycled, a lot of the grocery stores have containers for them."

Philadelphia's plastic bag ordinance prohibits businesses from providing single-us plastic bags, bags made from polylactic acid, or paper bags made from less than 40% recycled content.

Businesses can provide reusable bags made from nylon, cotton, cloth, polyester or another machine washable fabric, or reusable plastic bags, as well as paper bags made from at least 40% recycled content, containing no old-growth fiber, and that are printed with the word or phrase "Recyclable" or "Recycled Content."

Philly businesses prohibited from providing plastic bags:

• Retail establishments
• Supermarkets
• Convenience stores
• Shops
• Service stations
• Department stores
• Clothing stores
• Restaurants
• Food trucks
• Farmers' markets
• Delivery services

Exemptions to Philly's plastic bag ban:

• Dry cleaner bags
• Bags used by retail establishments to contain perishable items
• Bags sold in packages containing multiple bags, such as for garbage or pet waste

After the ban is in place, there will be an education period from Oct. 1 to March 31. During the time, businesses found providing plastic bags to customers will be issued warnings.

Starting April 1, non-compliant businesses will be fined. Penalties start at $75 and each violation is subject to a separate fine. The city could take repeat offenders to court, and if fines aren't paid, a lien can be put on the business.

Philadelphia, West Chester, Lower Merion and Narberth had sued to defend their abilities to enforce plastic bag bans after Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a measure that limited municipal governments' enacting laws, rules and regulations on single-use plastics.

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