July 18, 2023
Upper Merion Township has become the latest Philadelphia suburb to adopt a ban on single-use plastics.
The township's board of supervisors unanimously passed a ban on single-use plastic bags, utensils, straws and foam last Thursday. The plastic bag ban will take effect Jan. 1, but the ban on plastic utensils – a first for the region – will not take effect until next July. And to encourage the use of reusable bags, the ordinance places a fee on the distribution of paper bags.
The new law will affect the King of Prussia Mall, the biggest shopping complex in the Philadelphia region.
Eric Goldstein, the King of Prussia District's president and CEO, told WHYY that the mall supports the township's move to reduce plastic pollution. Many of the businesses within the mall also support the ordinance. The Environmental Advisory Council, a municipal panel that seeks to create a more environmentally-sustainable community, will help businesses transition away from single-use plastics by researching alternatives.
Upper Merion residents use nearly 12 million single-use plastic bags every year, according to data estimates from PennEnvironment, an advocacy group that helped draft the ordinance. Plastic pollution is one of the most common forms of litter, with plastic bags posing particular harms to the environment.
Supporters of the single-use plastics ban say it is a necessary step toward curbing plastic pollution in Montgomery County.
"Mitigating the effects of climate change and global warming will take societal change," said state Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, whose district includes Upper and Lower Merion. "Banning plastic bags is an effective way to increase the usage of reusable options — reducing the need for single-use plastics that can take decades, if not hundreds of years, to decompose. Upper Merion is taking a critical step to create a more sustainable future for all of us by joining the other municipalities across our region that have banned the usage of plastic bags and polystyrene foam containers."
Upper Merion had been working on a plan to reduce plastic pollution for four years before the ordinance was introduced earlier this year, said Zachary Davis, chair of the township's Environmental Advisory Council.
Upper Merion's plastic bag ban is the 20th passed by a Pennsylvania municipality. Narberth became the first in 2018, when it banned plastic bags and plastic straws. Over the last month, Upper Moreland and Lower Merion townships – both in Montgomery County – also passed plastic bans, though neither included plastic utensils.
Upper Moreland's law bans plastic bags, straws and polystyrene foam containers at restaurants and other businesses. Beginning in January, paper bags will replace plastic ones, but people will be encouraged to use reusable bags. Fines will be issued to people and businesses who violate the ordinance, the Glenside Local reported.
In June, Lower Merion Township adopted an ordinance that effectively banned single-use plastic bags and polystyrene foam containers. Enforcement begins Jan. 21. People are encouraged to bring their own bags to shop, but paper bags will be available for a small fee.
"Plastic bags are the poster child for the 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. This sends a strong message that Montgomery County is a leader in the effort to tackle single-use plastic pollution."
Philadelphia's plastic bag ban, which passed in 2019, went into effect in 2021. Enforcement began last spring after delays due to the pandemic. An analysis of the ban found that it prevented 200 million bags from being used.
Last year, Pittsburgh became the first western Pennsylvania town to pass a plastic bag ban.