The Springfield Township Board of Commissioners voted 5-1 to ban retail establishments from distributing single-use plastic carry-out bags.
The Springfield Township Board of Commissioners voted 5-1 on Aug. 9 to pass Ordinance No. 975, banning retail establishments in the township from distributing single-use plastic carry-out bags to their customers.
The hope is that the law will gradually change the public’s reliance on single-use plastic bags and encourage customers to shop with reusable bags instead.
The ban starts in February 2024, six months from now. Township retail establishments will be prohibited from distributing single-use plastic carry-out bags to customers at the point of sale.
Beginning in February, customers will have the choice of bringing their own reusable bags or paying a 10-cent fee to the retailer for a recyclable paper bag or a reusable bag. There also will be an ongoing free reusable bag exchange located at the township library and operated by the township’s Environmental Advisory Committee.
During the six-month grace period, retailers are asked to put up signs in their establishments notifying their customers of the ban on single-use plastic carry-out bags and non-recyclable paper bags at the point of sale beginning in February 2024.
Enforcement rests with the township manager or his designee, and there are provisions for initial written warning notices and fines for violations. Retail establishments have one year, or until August 2024, to apply for an “undue hardship” exemption from the law for a period of time not exceeding one year.
Retail establishments affected by the ban include, for example, drugstores, pharmacies, supermarkets, grocery stores, farmers' markets, convenience food stores, food marts, clothing stores, hardware stores or any seller of nonperishable goods. Bazaars or festivals operated by non-profit organizations or religious institutions are not affected by the law.
Certain single-use plastic bags are exempt from the law, including laundry and dry-cleaning bags, newspaper bags, and bags used for the delivery of goods by mail or by delivery services like Amazon.
Although the ban applies to restaurants, bars and take-out places, the single-use plastic carry-out bags they use are exempt under the law. So are single-use plastic bags distributed by federal, state or local governments or by retail establishments operated by them, including state-operated liquor and wine stores, Township Manager Mike Taylor said.
“We modeled our ordinance after Radnor Township’s law, which has the same provisions regarding restaurants and single-use plastic bag distributions by federal, state, and local governments,” Taylor added.
It was a hard-earned victory, especially for Richard Metz, a member of the township's Environmental Advisory Commission, who spearheaded the effort to get the law passed.
“I was pleasantly surprised that the vote was 5 to 1, since a majority of commissioners had voted against authorizing publication of the proposed law in October 2022,” Metz said.
“We worked a lot with Commissioner Ratsavong to hammer out a compromise, which was to reduce the fee to 10 cents and our promise that the EAC would set up a free reusable bag exchange for residents.”
Metz, a longtime activist on environmental issues, got interested in passing a single-use plastic carry-out bag law in 2021. “The plastic bag ban seemed to me to be doable. After Philly passed theirs, I thought, why can’t we do that out here?”
“Municipalities are stepping up to regulate single-use plastic bags because the state legislature shows little interest in passing a statewide law,” Metz said.
In 2021, Metz created the Southeast Pennsylvania Single-Use Plastics Coalition, starting with the neighboring municipalities close to Springfield Township, but the group soon grew to 45 municipalities from various counties. The coalition worked closely with Penn Environment and the Clean Air Council on the single-use plastics issue. So far, about 17 municipalities in Southeast PA have passed single-use plastic bag ordinances, now including Springfield and Whitemarsh townships.
The Springfield Township Environmental Advisory Commission did the research on single-use plastics, conducted surveys of township residents on single-use plastic bag use, and helped the Springfield High School Sustainability Club with its single-use plastics survey of high school students.
Metz and Commissioner Peter Wilson even took the single-use plastics survey door-to-door, visiting the township’s retail establishments.
Based on the potential plastics elimination figures projected by the Clean Air Council for municipalities like Uwchlan and West Goshen townships in Chester County that have passed single-use plastic bag ordinances and have similar 2020 census population numbers as Springfield Township, Metz noted that “Springfield might stand to eliminate between 38.56 to 46.35 tons of plastic by banning single-use plastic carry-out bags.”
What’s next? “Now the EAC, Stephen Heverin and I have to do the follow-up education, webpages info, and getting the reusable bag exchange up and running before the ban goes into effect in six months,” Metz said.
The state legislature opened the door for municipalities to regulate single-use plastics when it allowed a 2020 law prohibiting municipalities from regulating single-use plastics to expire without renewal in July 2021.
If there was any doubt that prohibiting point-of-sale single-use plastic bags did any good in reducing single-use plastic bags and changing consumer behavior, an April 2023 study of Philadelphia’s single-use plastics ban showed that it was extremely effective. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Swarthmore College reported a 93% reduction in plastic bag use since Philadelphia implemented its law in 2021 and found that the number of Philadelphia shoppers using reusable bags rose more than 90%. The number of consumers not taking a bag at all has tripled. The study estimated that the ban prevented the use of more than 200 million plastic bags in the city.
In other news, Commissioner Wilson presented Township Police Officer Mark Hoisington with a resolution honoring him for his 34 years of public service to the township. Hoisington started with the Springfield Police Department in 1989, receiving many commendations in his career from the township’s police ciefs, neighboring police departments, and from residents who appreciated his police work on their behalf.
Township residents can obtain audio recordings of past Board Workshop meetings by contacting Township Manager, Michael Taylor at email@example.com. You can access all Board Business Meeting Agendas, Minutes, and recordings on the Springfield Township website, www.Springfieldmontco.org