By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – One day after Earth Day, the debate over plastic bags used by stores returns front and center to Philadelphia City Council. A city councilman today will propose a measure that would force all stores in the city to charge a nickel for every shopping bag — plastic or paper.
First in 2007 and again in 2009, attempts were made by city council members to ban plastic bags outright. But those measures died amid intense lobbying from the grocery and petrochemical industries.
Now First District Councilman Mark Squilla is introducing a bill with a different approach. Rather than a ban, retailers would have to charge five cents for every bag used at the point of sale, whether paper or plastic.
“There would be no more free bags to be issued (by stores) in the city of Philadelphia,” Squilla says. “The fee would be five cents per plastic bag or paper bag, and that money would be split between the retailer and the city of Philadelphia.”
Under his plan, three cents of each nickel fee would be kept by the store to defray costs. The remaining two cents would go to the city to fund anti-littering programs.
The fee would not apply to larger, durable bags of canvas or plastic that are meant to be used multiple times. In fact, Squilla says he hopes the law would encourage re-usable bags:
“I think that most people would be able to understand that because of the fee, we have to go to re-usable bags, bring re-usable bags with them, or pay that five cents if they don’t.”
Charging a fee for bags is likely to provoke criticism from both sides of the issue — from retailers who would oppose any such regulation, and from environmental activists who want to see an outright ban. Squilla believes this is a reasonable compromise:
“We felt this was a way to reach a middle ground, to work with the retailers, and say people are allowed to use the plastic bags, but they have to pay a fee. A fee on these bags would then reduce the usage of them, therefore enable us to hopefully clean up some of the city of Philadelphia.”
Squilla says he included paper bags in the measure because he felt that singling out plastic bags would simply lead to more paper bag litter.
Under Squilla’s plan, stores could opt out by not offering single-use bags, but must place signs informing customers of that decision. It does include some exceptions, including bags used by dry cleaners and pharmacies, and bags used to wrap meats, baked goods or flowers.
If approved by council and signed by the mayor, the bag fee would not take effect until July 1st of 2016.
The failed 2009 proposal to ban bags outright was sponsored by Frank DiCicco, who preceded Squilla in representing the First District. At the time he attributed the defeat to lobbying by a trade group for the petrochemical industry.