Philadelphia Moves to Ban Plastic Bags, Some Paper Bags

Wherever purchases are made and then taken home, there’s a high likelihood that the product winds up in a thin, plastic bag. People throughout the U.S. and the world widely use plastic bags to take home their groceries, leftover food, and other purchases. In fact, in 2018 the U.S. used about 4.2 million tons of plastic bags, sacks, and wraps. Of those 4.2 million tons, 3.04 million tons wound up in landfills. Americans recycled only about 10 percent.

Plastic takes a long time to decompose. That 3 million tons of plastic bags may take as many as 1,000 years to decompose. As environmentalists and others grow increasingly concerned about this plastic waste, many cities, states, and even national governments have implemented bans or taxes on the use of plastic bags.

One such government is the City of Philadelphia. In December 2019, the City of Philadelphia voted to ban single use plastic bags. While called a plastic bag ban, the law actually goes a step further; it regulates the paper bags that are all but guaranteed to replace plastic bags.

What Does Philadelphia’s Plastic Bag Ban Do?

Despite its name, Philadelphia’s plastic bag ban prohibits more than single use plastic bags. It also bans bioplastic bags and paper bags made from less than 40 percent recycled content. “This includes bags created through a ‘blown film extrusion’ process or that are less than 2.25 mils thick,” according to an updated timeline of the ban on the City of Philadelphia’s website.

The ban does not include plastic bags that aren’t made through blown film extrusion, that are more than 2.25 mils thick, and that are designed for multiple reuses. It also doesn’t affect bags designed for reuse that are made from other materials, including nylon, cotton, or polyester.

Paper bags that are at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content, contain no old growth fiber, and comply with Philadelphia’s labelling system will be unaffected by the ban. In order to comply with the labelling rules, bags must have the words “recyclable” or “recycled content” on them, display the name of the manufacturer, and report the percentage of post-consumer recycled content of the bag.

Dry cleaner bags, trash bags, yard waste bags, pet waste bags, and bags used to deliver perishable items to the point of sale (for product, bulk items, meat, fish, bread, etc.) are all exempt.

Violating the ordinance results in a fine of at least $75. Repeat violations may result in other legal action and fines.

What is the Current Timeline for Implementing Philadelphia’s Plastic Bag Ban?

Philadelphia City Council passed the ordinance in December 2019 and originally intended to implement it in July of 2020. Implementation was pushed back, however, and won’t be in full force until April 2022.

Officially, implementation of the ban began July 1, 2021, but businesses and their customers are still using single-use plastic bags.

By July 31, 2021, businesses are required to post signs informing customers about the upcoming changes. The actual ban takes effect October 1, 2021.

From October 1, 2021 until April 1, 2022, the city will only issue warnings for failure to comply with the ordinance and won’t issue fines. Beginning April 1, 2022, the city will fully enforce the ban—including fining businesses that use single-use plastic bags or paper bags that don’t meet the ordinance’s standards.

If My Business Doesn’t Reside in Philadelphia, Do I Need to Take Action?

According to this law, no. But you may want to consider switching from single-use plastic bags to post-consumer recycled paper bags soon anyway. These kinds of bans aren’t unique to Philadelphia. Eight states have already banned single-use plastic bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

It’s not just states either. According to Vox, at least 400 cities and states have passed laws to prohibit or tax plastic bags. On the national level, the European Union recently voted to ban all single-use plastic products, including bags, straws, plates, cups, and more. Last year, Canada banned single-use plastics, though implementation is still in the works.

With increasing government scrutiny and regulation—not to mention shifts in consumer demand—any business that uses single-use plastic bags should consider switching to paper bags.

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We have 10 sizes of Twist Handle Paper Bags from 8” to 16” faces that are popular in restaurants, convenience stores, and even retail outlets. For grocery stores and bodegas, we also have two sizes of Flat Handle Paper Bags—1/7 and 1/6 barrel. The Flat Handle Paper Bags’ handles come folded down inside of the bag, streamlining the look of the bag.

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All our bags are made from 100% recycled paper, including at least 60% post-consumer recycled content. All the paper used to make our bags is sustainably sourced, so you can rest assured that your bags are environmentally friendly.

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