Third go-round may be the charm for Philly plastic bag fee

In a bid to reduce litter and encourage sustainable living, a coalition of environmental groups and businesses wants Philadelphia to attach a fee to plastic grocery bags — and City Council member Mark Squilla is promising to introduce legislation to make it happen.

Squilla and the groups are hoping that the third time is the charm for legislation that has already failed twice in City Council.

The city’s last bag fee bill failed in 2009, due, in part, to pressure from the plastics industry. But Logan Welde, an attorney with the Clean Air Council, said he hopes this year will be different.

“You can just look around — you don’t need studies to show that plastic bags are a severe problem in every community,” Welde said at a press conference Tuesday. “Just look in every tree, look in the fences, look in the waterways.”

One cost of free bags is that city workers have to clean them up, Welde said. What’s more, the bags can’t be recycled because they gum up the machinery.

And Julie Slavet, head of the Tookany-Tacony Frankford Watershed Partnership, said that accumulated bags and other trash can ruin the appeal city parks.

“What we’re concerned about is getting people into city parks to enjoy green space in their neighborhood, and having plastic bags all over the place really deters people,” Slavet said. “We know that people want to go into places that are clean and green, and it’s hard to get people in if it looks like the park has not been taken care of because there’s litter all over the place.”

A spokesman for Squilla said the councilman plans to introduce a new bag-fee bill sometime next month. While the bill is still being developed, one strategy to get it passed is to keep the fee very low – somewhere around five cents a bag.

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