Hello and welcome to Philly Talks Climate — where we talk about the climate crisis, how it affects Philadelphia, and how we solve this for our region. I’m Meenal Raval, and I’ll be your host.
Last week we rebroadcast an episode about getting to zero waste, starting by reducing single-use plastics in our daily lives. This week, we’ll talk about a little town that voted to ban single-use plastic bags and straws.
The story so far…
For many months now, the Litter Free Philly coalition has worked to reduce the litter in Philadelphia streets. They did so via education. Education about litter. And about single-use plastics and where they end up.
The Litter Free Philly team also gathered petitions to show public support for legislation that would reduce the single-use bags given out by merchants. You’ve likely been approached at various events and fairs. No? Consider signing their petition at litterfreephilly dot wordpress dot com.
The team has also worked with Council member Mark Squilla this spring.
On June 20th, the last day of Council session, Mark Squilla introduced bill number 190610, co-sponsored by Council members Cindy Bass, Helen Gym, Derek Green & Curtis Jones. Many other councilmembers are already on board and there was confidence that this would get voted in when council resumed session in September. Leaving the environmental groups to spend the summer educating Philadephians on the need to switch to reusable bags. Because, we know this… BYO Bag, Philly!
A few days later, on June 27th, during the last day of session in Harrisburg, language prohibiting local munis from enacting bans on single-use plastics was snuck into Senate Bill 712, as part of the state budget bill. This was led by PA Senator Jake Corman.
The Litter Free Philly team pondered our options, and met with Council member Mark Squilla once again, on July 12th, deciding to proceed as planned with minor changes — notably the date when this bill would become law.
Meanwhile, in West Chester…
Meanwhile, in the tiny Borough of West Chester, 5th graders had been educating the Borough Council about single use plastics and pushing for a ban on single-use bags & straws.
Having convinced all Borough Council members on this, a public hearing was scheduled for July 17th, 2019. As recently as 72 hours prior to meeting there was unanimous vote in favor of the ordinance.
Hearing of the state prohibition, Borough Council members checked with the Borough solicitor and, we learned, had intended to vote against the much-desired ordinance.
The options presented by the solicitor were:
- Enact an ordinance now and risk being challenged by the state – perhaps even held personally responsible for damages. West Chester Borough Council would be playing defense and would be alone.
- Hold off on passing the ordinance and start a preemptive suit against the commonwealth to test the validity of the prohibition. A strategy that would allow other municipalities (and NGOs) to join the suit. This appeared to be the favored approach going into the hearing.
The little town that could…
So when we, as members of the Litter Free Philly team, arrived at the July 17th hearing, to support the little town, we found that the hearing was scheduled for only a half hour. However, The room filled up quickly with people of all ages. By the time the hearing began, there was standing room only! And the hearing scheduled for just half an hour lasted over 2 hours and was quite a cliff-hanger!
Listen to Mayor Dianne Herrin, who reminded the audience that in 2015, 73% of the Borough voted for an environmental bill of rights – rights to clean air, pure water and a sustainable energy future. But that special interests prevent us from doing what’s needed.
[insert segment titled Herrin]
Then, hear a rousing call by PA Senator Andy Dinniman, reminding us that it’s incumbent upon us to resist!
[insert segment titled Dinniman]
Listen to the fifth child that spoke up. She seemed to be a 12 year old…
[insert segment titled child #5]
Rachel Davis from the West Chester Green Team pointed to the filled room, with people crowding the rear and side wall 3 deep, and out the doors…
[insert WC Green Team ]
Clean Water Action’s Maurice Sampson gave a Philly perspective, and asked Council to pass the ban.
[insert Sampson segment]
Sierra Club’s Southeastern PA Group’s Chair Jim Wylie presented a trash bag filled with single-use plastics that they collected in just an hour, walking around their neighborhood. He also read a note from allies in nearby Narberth Borough, who have had a ban on single-use plastic bags and straws for a while now.
[insert Wylie segment]
July 17, 2019
From: Jesse Lytle, Narberth Borough EAC member & Cyndi Rickards, Narberth Borough Council
We have had minimal negative feedback and nothing close to a legal challenge. On the flip side, we have heard continued emphatic support from the community including many in the business community, some of whom have gone beyond the ordinance’s requirements to voluntarily reduce other forms of single use plastics like take-out containers. It’s like all they needed was a signal from the community that people really do care about the issue. We have also had a parade of other municipalities coming to us for advice on how to do something similar where they are — including Upper Merion (can you imagine KoP without plastics??). One national chain–RiteAid–offered immediate and unequivocal support from their corporate headquarters when informed that the Narberth staff were initially dragging their feet.
As one indicator of how enthused we’ve been, with Council’s support the EAC is doing the initial legwork on a polystyrene ordinance. We were dismayed by the Commonwealth’s action and had planned to wait it out (or do something voluntary in the interim), but I love the boldness of West Chester’s proposal and am intrigued by the idea of municipalities forging ahead undaunted.
So, in sum, we have experienced nothing that would amount to a cautionary tale and much that perhaps might steel your resolve as West Chester considers a bold move!! Good luck and let us know if there are other ways we can be helpful.
Jesse and Cyndi
PA Rep Danielle Friel Otten — who ran for office after safety concerns about a pipeline near their home.
And the amazing last guy, who asked Borough Council to chew gum and walk at the same time!
The energy in the room was overwhelming. Everyone, on their own, encouraged the council to take the bold step, to pass the bag & straw ban. Clearly, most felt that it was the PA legislation was being irrational, not us.
After all the testimony and discussions, the motion was made to change the “take effect” date to July 2, 2020 and pass the ordinance now. The council president proposed a second motion in the event the vote failed to initiate a legal challenge to the state – to show the many people still in the room that they were serious about taking action on single-use plastics.
But the first motion passed!! By 4-3.
We’re not sure what happened to sway the votes. Likely each Council member got swept up by the energy in the room. Also likely was they saw angry voters between them and the exit door!
Regardless, this is an ordinance that each local muni needs to replicate. You’d be doing right by your town, and you’d be standing beside West Chester, the little town that could… face up to the State.
What do you think the state will do? What will your town do?
- July 19, 2019, Phoenixville Reporter, West Chester officials vote to ban single-use plastic bags and straws
- July 18, 2019, CNN, Cambodia is planning to ship 1,600 tons of plastics back to US and Canada
- June 20, 2019, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Frank Kummer & Ellie Rushing, Ban on single-use plastic bags introduced in Philly Council with 15-cent fee on other bags
- June 20, 2019, Philly Voice, Adam Herman, Philadelphia City Council proposes plastic bag ban, 15-cent fee on all other bags
- June 20, 2019, State Impact, Dana Bates, Philly’s considering a plastic-bag ban — again — and one councilman says ‘it’s almost inevitable’ it’ll pass this tim
- Audio selected from this live feed — facebook.com/WestChesterLive/videos/381979382453244/
- Photos from these posts — Mayor’s post, and WC Green Team
- The student presentation that swayed Borough Council