Haverford bans plastic bags as more Main Line communities look to do the same

Pedestrians carry plastic bags in Philadelphia

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

Just months after the statewide preemption meant to block plastic regulations expired, more suburban communities like those on the Main Line are moving ahead with their own plastic bag bans.

The Haverford Township Board of Commissioners passed an ordinance in an 8 to 1 vote heavily restricting the distribution and usage of plastic bags, plastic beverage stirrers, and plastic straws.

Starting January 2023, businesses located within the township will no longer be allowed to provide customers with single-use plastic carry-out bags and stirrers. Plastic straws at commercial establishments will only be available by request.

The main purpose of the limitations, which were passed Monday night, is to help reduce the amount of plastic waste piling up in the township, further contributing to the climate crisis, pollution, and the subsequent cleanup costs that fall on taxpayers.

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“I think it’s no secret that at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year and this makes up about 80% of all marine debris that are found in our surface waters, too, I think even the deep sea sediments. So, marine species are ingesting, or they’re getting entangled by plastic debris. It’s causing severe injuries and sometimes death,” Commissioner Steve D’Emilio said.

D’Emilio, who also chose to retire Monday night, said he thinks the country should consider a “nationwide ban” on plastic bags in order to eliminate pollution. But for now, he values the municipal-level actions to lead the charge.

“It’s a scientific fact that microplastics are ending up in human beings. We’re digesting this. So I’m one of the few Republicans that recognizes that and I felt that you know what, I have to do my little action to maybe help,” D’Emilio said.

Failure to comply with the ban will lead to a written warning and additional violations could result in a fine of up to $500. Enforcement of the bans is a major factor in the success of such ordinances — Philadelphia just began enforcing its own regulations at the start of April.

Haverford’s ordinance has largely been met with a warm response from residents. Most spoke out in support of it during the first reading at a March 7 commissioners meeting and the ordinance initially moved forward in the process on a 7-2 vote.

Commissioner Conor Quinn was one of those no votes. Prior to Monday’s vote, he said he understood the intent of the ordinance, but also had reservations about the plastic straw portion of it, citing his work with community members affected by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

He ended up being the sole “no” vote on Monday night.

“The straw ban was what impacted me more. For people who would need a straw when they go into a place they would have to ask for one and it would be given to them under the ordinance now that we’ve passed, but I don’t think they should even have to ask for it,” Quinn said.

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Quinn owns a local restaurant in the community too, and he said that a majority of the feedback he received about the ban was against the change. If it was just a ban on plastic bags, Quinn said that he would have initially had a lot more support for it.

The only other issue he acknowledged was the lack of uniformity among other Delco municipalities.

“A store across the street could have bags and straws, and the other place across the street from them can’t. So, it’s issues like that,” Quinn said.

More suburban communities looking into plastic ordinances

Although they aren’t explicitly mentioned as the inspiration of the newly enacted ordinance, the groundwork laid by Philadelphia, Narberth Borough, Lower Merion Township, and West Chester — who filed suit against the state legislature to allow for their bans in 2021 — hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I [started this process] several years ago. I believe, after Philadelphia passed their plastic bag ban, and there was another suburban community, although I don’t recall who had started, I felt we should be a leader in our Delaware County area,” D’Emilio said.

While Haverford is the latest suburban municipality with a plastic bag ban, there’s a good chance it will soon be joined by nearby Radnor Township.

The township’s Board of Commissioners called on its Environmental Advisory Council to draft an ordinance banning single-use plastic shopping bags.

“We actually initiated this several years ago,” said Margaret Reinhart, chair of the advisory council. “And then the Pennsylvania legislature had put like a moratorium on plastic bag bans that banned the bans. And so when that was lifted, then we started this again.”

The advisory council gave a presentation on the matter during a March 24 meeting, allowing feedback from residents and business owners. Reinhart said that the responses were “overwhelmingly positive.”

Now, the advisory council has moved to contacting local businesses directly to hear from them.

Reinhart, who is also a senior lecturer at the University of the Sciences in the biological sciences department, said that plastic bags are one of the “greatest problems” facing the environment.

However, she’s hopeful that through collaborations with other EACs, there can be some level of uniformity. She added that the region’s EACs held a meeting in February and she found that “more are starting to propose a ban than are not.”

“We’re trying to kind of have same or similar wording in our ordinances, so … because we’re rather small, all these little townships, you might not necessarily shop in the same place where you live … so that when you go to shop, you don’t have to think ‘Oh, no, what do they require and what do they require.’ So that there will be some consistency among the groups,” Reinhart said.

Tredyffrin Township in Chester County is also mulling its own single-use plastics ordinance modeled after West Chester’s ban. Although, it’s unclear when a vote will come.

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