Easttown Township bans plastic bags, as advocates push to eliminate Styrofoam across the ‘burbs

Single-use plastic bags

Single-use plastic bags are in use at a ShopRite grocery store. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

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Easttown Township has become the seventh municipality in Pennsylvania — and the third in Chester County — to pass a plastic bag ban, as similar restrictions have been imposed in Philadelphia and across the Main Line.

The township’s Board of Supervisors unanimously passed Ordinance 450-2022 on Monday, which will put a stop to the sale or distribution of single-use plastic bags at local retailers. The legislation goes one step further by requiring that paper bag alternatives consist of at least 40% recycled content. It will go into effect in January 2023.

The push for this latest ban on single-use plastic bags was spearheaded by Easttown Township’s Environmental Advisory Council (EAC).

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“I’m excited that we get to be in that early group of adopters … to remove one of the major aspects of single-use plastics from the waste stream,” said Cara Rash, chair of the township’s EAC.

Rash said that the work to establish the ordinance began in the summer of 2021. The group put together a survey for local businesses and from there, the EAC got the green light from the township to draft legislation. She added that the Easttown Township Board of Supervisors has been supportive of the council’s work since the beginning.

“I think what comes next is we want to see a successful rollout of this ordinance and adoption in the business community and residential communities. But then we have some interest in working on bringing some composting to the township, as well as building a rain garden program,” Rash said.

The region’s various EACs have played a crucial role in getting legislation passed across the Commonwealth.

From Easttown to West Goshen Township, suburban plastic bag ordinances have become more common since Philly, Lower Merion Township, Narberth Borough, and West Chester filed suit against the Pennsylvania legislature to allow for their bans in 2021.

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Some of the groups, like Easttown’s EAC, have also been working with PennEnvironment, a statewide non-profit environmental advocacy organization.

“What’s cool about this one is it has the strongest fee component of any ordinance passed so far,” said Faran Savitz, a zero waste advocate with PennEnvironment.

The regulation also calls for a $0.15 fee on other bags and comes with a fine for violators.

“It’s a better reminder for people and will hopefully decrease not just single-use plastic bag use, but single-use paper bag use, as well, and encourage people to bring their own bag — which is the best option you can do,” Savitz said.

PennEnvironment estimates that Easttown residents use 4 million plastic bags every year. Nationwide, a vast majority of plastic waste is not recycled. It ends up in landfills, incinerators, and even waterways.

Because plastic is not biodegradable, the waste is building up and causing huge amounts of damage to the environment.

Even when plastic does break down, it causes problems. Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that have been found virtually everywhere, even in the human body.

“Where there’s litter, where there isn’t litter, we find microplastics. So, the best thing we can do is cut the plastic off at its source. Because if there’s no real sustainable way to deal with it right now, well, let’s turn off the tap. Let’s stop making these new plastic products and let’s switch to better options for our environment,” Savitz said.

Tredyffrin Township and Radnor Township are both currently working to pass plastic bag bans of their own.

“The closer we can get to as many of these policies pass as possible, the closer we get to a statewide policy, and something single and unified that everyone can follow,” Savitz said. “Right now, we’ve got about 15% of the state covered. So hopefully, we can get more of that in the near future.”

He pointed out that communities like Haverford have also restricted the use of plastic straws and stirrers. Savitz hopes that local areas will soon turn their attention to food containers made of polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam.

“There are communities looking at it. Ambler Borough introduced a plastic bag ban a few months ago that also included a ban on polystyrene … I believe that’s the only local ban on polystyrene that’s been proposed so far and that’s still being considered,” Savitz said.

State Rep. Tim Briggs, who represents parts of Montgomery County, has been working alongside PennEnvironment in introducing a statewide ban on polystyrene food container products. House Bill 783 is unlikely to pass this session, but Savitz is still hopeful for its future.

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