Deputy Director, PennEnvironment
Deputy Director, PennEnvironment
Zero Waste Advocate, PennEnvironment
Pittsburgh — Today, Allegheny County Council is set to introduce new legislation to ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags at retailers across the county.
Made from fossil fuels, single-use plastic bags harm the environment from cradle to grave. They are a common source of litter that impacts residents’ quality of life and endangers wildlife. Single-use plastic bags break down in the environment, but never fully go away, turning instead into microscopic pieces of plastic called microplastics. Microplastics are often ingested by wildlife, causing suffocation and starvation. They also attract other pollutants in the environment, concentrating dangerous toxins and delivering them to the wildlife that eat them.
PennEnvironment has studied this issue and found the presence of microplastics in 100% of the samples we collected from more than 100 of Pennsylvania’s iconic and pristine waterways. In Allegheny County, we found microplastic film from items like plastic bags and food wrappers in the Allegheny River, the Ohio River and the Monongahela River.
Plastic bag bans in Pennsylvania have been massively effective. A recent analysis of Philadelphia’s ban on single-use plastic bags found a 93% reduction in plastic bag use and a 90% rise in the number of shoppers using a reusable bag. Allegheny County residents use an estimated 456 million single-use plastic bags annually, which is over 2500 tons of plastic waste each year, so we know that replicating Philadelphia’s results will have a profound and immediate positive impact on litter in the city, and go a long way toward protecting our rivers and streams from this type of plastic pollution.
Ashleigh Deemer, deputy director of PennEnvironment, released the following statement:
“Nothing we use for a few minutes should be allowed to litter our communities and pollute our environment for centuries. That’s why we applaud Allegheny County Councilmembers Prizio, Bennet, Klein and Naccarati-Chapkis for leading the charge to rein in the pervasive threat of single-use plastic pollution by introducing today’s legislation.
Because this policy has been so effective, the number of Pennsylvania localities passing these laws has grown exponentially year to year. In 2018, there was just one bag ban in Pennsylvania. Two were passed in 2019, eleven in 2022, and nine more have passed so far this year. In town after town, bag bans are dramatically reducing litter and waste, with very little opposition or downside.
We’re also reassured by the growing support from the business community for moving away from single-use plastic bags. From Giant Eagle to Goodwill, business leaders recognize reducing single-use plastic waste as a risk-free way of achieving the sustainability that customers want.
Earlier this year, PennEnvironment partnered with Allegheny County Council on a hearing of the Sustainability and Green Initiatives Committee to educate Council and the public about single-use plastics. We look forward to working with Council again to educate and engage stakeholders and build support for this measure.”
With 24 such municipal policies in place, more than 18% of Pennsylvania residents now live in a place where the distribution of single-use plastic bags is prohibited. Collectively, these laws are estimated to eliminate nearly 5,000 tons of plastic waste annually.
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 our Beyond Plastic page, and our Single-Use Plastic Laws in Pennsylvania toolkit.