PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center releases new survey results of PA local officials’ plastic pollution concerns

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On heels of survey release, officials call on legislature to lift moratorium on local policies to reduce plastic pollution

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

PHILADELPHIA — PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center was joined by local elected officials, including the mayors of Doylestown and West Chester, Wednesday to release a new report, Local Solutions to Local Pollution. The study, which surveyed Pennsylvania local officials about single-use plastic pollution concerns, offers policy solutions for tackling the problem.

Specifically, the report features feedback from 100 local officials across 23 Pennsylvania counties on the issue of single-use plastic litter and pollution. The vast majority of those surveyed were concerned about the effect that single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, were having on their community in the form of litter and environmental damage. The survey also showed that the majority of officials supported implementing local ordinances or broader state legislation: 80 percent of respondents wanted to or would consider passing legislation, and 90 percent would consider resolutions calling for state or federal legislation. 

“Nothing we use for a few minutes should be allowed to potentially pollute our environment for hundreds of years,” said Faran Savitz, conservation associate for the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “Implementing local policies to address the chronic pollution problems being caused by single-use plastics like bags or foam containers are proven to be some of the best ways of cutting off the source of this pollution.”

At the report’s announcement, the PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center was joined by West Chester Mayor and State Representative-elect Dianne Herrin, Doylestown Mayor Ron Strouse, East Pittsburgh Borough Council President Mary Carol Kennedy, Solebury Township Supervisor John Francis, and Eureka Recycling founder and Director of the nonprofit Nothing Left to Waste Alex Danovitch.

“The great majority of our constituents want to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastics because of their devastating impacts on the environment and the pressing need to sustain a healthy world for our children. The actions taken by the state to prevent local governments from carrying out their duty to prevent harm to our communities are unacceptable.” Said Mayor Herrin. “When we work hard to pass local legislation and we can’t enforce it because one powerful legislator is protecting one plastics manufacturer in his District, we are sending a terrible message to our children. Together, we must continue to work to overturn the state’s overreach when it comes to protecting our health and our world.”

“Pennsylvania is overdue in acting to reduce single use plastics and encourage environmentally sound alternatives,” Mayor Strouse said. “Local communities want to act and have creative ideas to help make our towns and cities cleaner and safer. “If the legislature can’t act on behalf of citizens in the entire commonwealth, they should get out of the way and let us do the job on behalf of our residents and businesses. Pre-emption is a stalling tactic and not a responsible solution.”

Americans generate more than 35 million tons of plastic waste every year, with less than 10 percent getting recycled. This has negative effects on our environment, and Pennsylvanians’ pocketbooks. For example, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation (PennDOT) spends more than $13 million every year cleaning up roadside litter, and nine of the largest cities in Pennsylvania spend over $68.5 million annually to fight litter and plastic pollution.

“It is well past the time for our state government to take action as so many others have, on the detrimental impact of single use plastics on our environment,” Council President Kennedy said.

Sadly, in May, the Pennsylvania legislature indefinitely extended single-use plastic pre-emption legislation. This decision stripped local officials of the authority to implement ordinances to address this type of plastic. Without this ability, Pennsylvania counties and municipalities cannot set their own rules  to cut this form of pollution off at the source, including bans, fees or other restrictions. As highlighted in the report, 80 percent of local official respondents would consider passing ordinances limiting single-use plastic and 72 percent would take action in support of ending the policy that strips local authority from tackling single-use plastic pollution. 

In the past few years, several Pennsylvania municipalities have moved towards taking action, led by Philadelphia, West Chester, and Narberth, who had already passed ordinances before pre-emption was indefinitely extended. But many others have put a hold on their efforts once state officials used a backroom move to strip local officials of the power to implement policies combating plastic pollution.

Danovitch summed up the need for limits on single-use plastic “The very convenient lie is that recycling is the way out of our plastics problem. The truth is that we need local policy solutions to push corporations to be responsible for the climate and human health impacts their packaging has on our communities and to create economic development opportunities for alternative reuse models.” 

Local officials in attendance echoed this sentiment. 

“The Solebury Board of Supervisors believe that regulation of single-use plastics falls within its responsibility to protect the health and safety of the citizens residing within the municipality,” said Solebury Township Supervisor John Francis, “We remain committed to establishing reasonable regulation of single-use plastic within the township as soon as it is feasible for us to do so.”

“Plastic pollution is an intensely local issue” said Savitz, “This survey shows that local officials understand the threat posed by plastic pollution and are clamoring to have state officials give them back the tools to address it.”

A recording of the event can be viewed in its entirety on PennEnivironment’s Facebook page.


PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit