New study by Philadelphia shows dramatic drop in plastic bag use since ban

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Data shows need for city to implement fee on paper bags to reduce overall waste further


PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia city officials released a new study, Evaluating the Ban: Philadelphia’s Plastic Bag Ban and Changes in Bag Usage in the City, on Thursday on the effectiveness of the city’s 2019 single-use plastic bag ban. The data shows the intended massive reduction in plastic bag use across the city, but also an unwanted consequence that PennEnvironment and other environmental advocates predicted: Many consumers just take free paper bags instead of plastic bags. 

This new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Swarthmore College on behalf of the City of Philadelphia, looked at bag use at grocery stores in the city before and after its plastic bag ban took effect. The researchers estimated that plastic bag use in Philadelphia has decreased by some 93% since then. In other promising developments, the number of shoppers using reusable bags has risen more than 90% over that same timespan and the number of consumers not taking a bag at all has tripled. The study estimated that the ban has prevented the use of more than 200 million plastic bags in the city, equivalent to filling City Hall with plastic bags every eight months.

PennEnvironment was part of a coalition of organizations that helped to draft the original ordinance language and advocated for its passage by Philadelphia City Council.

In response, Faran Savitz, PennEnvironment’s zero waste advocate, released the following statement:

“This study bolsters what we already know: Plastic bag bans are a tried-and-true method for reducing plastic waste. The fact that experts say this policy has so drastically reduced plastic bag use in Philadelphia is something that the public, businesses and elected officials alike should applaud.

“It’s also important that so many Philadelphians are using this policy as an opportunity to increase their use of reusable bags or decline to take any single-use bag when they shop.

“Still, this study shows what we knew all along. If you don’t include a fee on paper bags, stores will just offer those instead of plastic bags. To reduce the amount of waste from all single-use bags, Philadelphia City Council needs to implement a citywide 15-cent fee on those paper bags as quickly as possible. It’s time for Philadelphia to leave our longstanding “throw away” norm because there is no true “away” for disposable bags. The vast majority of them just end up in a landfill or incinerator, or litter our environment. Nothing we use for a few minutes should be allowed to pollute our surroundings for hundreds of years to come.”



PennEnvironment is a statewide citizen-based non-profit environmental advocacy organization working to promote clean air, clean water, and protect our open spaces. To learn more about our work to tackle the threat of single-use plastics, visit www., or to learn more about any of our issues visit