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City officials push back Pittsburgh ban on single-use plastic bags

Zoe Fuller
90.5 WESA
Now starting Oct. 14, the city’s ban will prohibit retailers and restaurants from distributing single-use plastic bags.

The City of Pittsburgh has delayed the rollout of its ban on single-use plastic bags. City officials said enforcement of the ban, which was previously scheduled to start in mid-April, has been pushed back until October.

Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey said the postponement will allow officials to better help businesses and consumers prepare for the transition.

“This extra time will allow us to do the work to be able to enact this policy with proper guidance for everyone in order to make this as smooth as possible for all of us,” Gainey said in a statement Thursday.

Now starting Oct. 14, the city’s ban will prohibit retailers and restaurants from distributing single-use plastic bags. Stores will be required to post visible notices about the upcoming plastic bag ban 90 days before the policy goes into effect.

It’s part of a push to protect Pittsburgh’s waterways and natural lands. Single-use plastic bags sent to landfills can take 1,000 years to decompose and often leach toxic microplastics into soils and waterways.

After sampling 50 of the state’s waterways, advocates with PennEnvironment found all of them contained microplastics.

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Alongside the measure, the city will launch a website with public information on the ban. The Department of Public Works is slated to distribute to businesses a list of distributors for both compliant paper and reusable bags.

That includes paper bags, made of at least 40% recycled material, provided to customers at a charge of at least 10 cents each. Stores that accept food assistance benefits, however, will be able to provide those bags to customers paying with WIC or EBT dollars free of cost.

Enforcement of the ban will include a three-step sanctions framework by which inspectors can issue written warnings for initial violations. Those will then be followed by escalating fines.

Per the legislation, the city will facilitate and support a pilot reusable bag program through which reusable bags can be purchased, donated and distributed by individuals and organizations.

The City of Pittsburgh has encouraged businesses and consumers to begin going plastic-free ahead of the October deadline.

Giant Eagle launched a pilot ban on single-use plastic bags at 40 of its stores. While it was cut short due to the onset of the pandemic, a company spokesperson said approximately 20 million single-use plastic bags were diverted from landfills during the two months the ban was in effect.

The company said it plans to end the use of single-use plastics in all of its operations by 2025. As of October, the retailer has stopped stocking plastic bags at its stores in Columbus, Cleveland, and Erie, as well as at the Waterworks Market District in Pittsburgh.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.