Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pittsburgh City Council passes bill to ban single-use plastic bags in the city

Pedestrians carry plastic bags in Philadelphia, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Matt Rourke
Pedestrians carry plastic bags in Philadelphia, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Pittsburgh City Council officially passed legislation to ban the use of single-use plastic bags in Pittsburgh. But shoppers and businesses have time to prepare: The ban won't go into effect for another year.

With Mayor Ed Gainey's approval, plastic bags will no longer be an option a year from now during shopping excursions or when getting takeout from a restaurant. Instead consumers will have to either bring their own reusable bag, or pay a fee of 10 cents to receive a paper bag.

Councilor Erika Strassburger sponsored the bill, and on Tuesday said it would impact recycling and improve the city's environment when it goes into effect.

"It will sharply curtail litter, mitigate storm water risks," she said. "It will reduce the amount of dangerous microplastics that collect in our soil, our rivers, in our drinking water."

Strassburger thanked a long list of people for the legislation, including small business owners, students and staff at local universities, and environmental advocates.

"This has just been a whole community effort," she said. "And it will continue to be a community effort as we work on this bill over the next few years."

Councilor Anthony Coghill said he had gotten a few calls about the legislation from his constituents, and was glad to see it amended: Changes adopted recently delayed the bill's effective date and eased the burden on lower-income customers.

A handful of speakers voiced support for the bill during council's public-comment portion of Tuesday's meeting. But not everyone is happy. Jeff Cohen, the owner of Smallman Street Deli, said the new rule will make things difficult for small business owners.

"It's not bad if you’re the big guys, big-box stores," he said. "For small businesses, it’s a pain in the ass. It's one more thing on your plate you're going to have to worry about."

Cohen said in the long run the fee for paper bags will hurt consumers, even after Council waive the requirement for people receiving food-stamp benefits.

Zachary Taylor, director of the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, represents manufacturers of plastic bags. He said he thinks policies like this are misguided.

"Plastic bags should be disposed of properly," he said. "But the idea that communities, by banning plastic grocery bags in favor of alternative bags that are more often than not plastic will address litter and waste, it doesn't bear out."

Taylor said plastic bags are a small fraction of municipal waste.

"You're forcing consumers to use products that have greater environmental impact," he said. "From a sustainability perspective, plastic bags bans don't meaningfully address litter and waste."

Also Tuesday, City Councilor Bruce Kraus introduced a resolution to denounce a state bill that bars transgender athletes from participating in youth sports that align with their gender identity.

"House Bill 972 is a cruel bully tactic specifically on trans girls," Kraus said as he read the resolution. "Allowing discussion on the House floor would inflict transgender youth to witness bigotry and hatred regarding their quality of life."

"The city of Pittsburgh continues to affirm and reaffirms that trans girls are girls and trans boys are boys in the city of Pittsburgh," said Kraus, council's first openly LGBT member.

Council passed both bills unanimously.