Plastic straws, plastic bags, and Styrofoam food-takeout containers could be on their way out in Pennsylvania if some Democratic state representatives get the change they want. The group has announced a package of 13 bills that tackle environmental and health problems posed by waste, litter and single-use plastic. The bills aim to alter the behavior of what they call a “throwaway society” with bans and taxes to punish use of plastic items that can be used only once, while pushing for incentives for recycling and waste reduction.
“When your food comes to you and it’s in a Styrofoam container, you’re unlikely to say, ‘No, I don’t want it anymore.’ They’re not going to give you the food in your hands, but you’re stuck,” said David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, who pushed for the bills. “So we need laws to balance out and have check and balances in a marketplace that often has us putting consumption over the things that are better for [our] planet, our health, our quality of life.”
The “Zero Waste PA” legislative package is led by State Rep. Tim Briggs of Montgomery County. In February, he introduced a bill that prohibits restaurants and stores from dispensing their food in plastic plates, cups, or any other polystyrene container, including Styrofoam — and he wanted to broaden the scope to try to solve the bigger waste and litter issue.
“Recycling is broken in Pennsylvania,” Briggs said at a news conference Wednesday morning in Harrisburg. “If it’s e-waste, if it’s what we recycle [at] the curb going to incinerators, going to the landfills … The whole system needs to be reworked.”
The package includes a bill from Montgomery County Rep. Mary Jo Daley that would prohibit plastic straws from being distributed, except at the request of a customer. Another measure, from Philadelphia Rep. Donna Bullock, would increase fines on illegal dumping. A 2-cent fee on non-reusable plastic bags at big grocery stores was presented by Philadelphia Reps. Brian Sims and Jared Solomon.
A bottle bill that gives 5 cents per container returned was announced by Bucks County Rep. Wendy Ulman. Legislation that would prohibit the distribution of products with packages made with non-recyclable plastics, unless the company selling the item takes the packaging back, was proposed by Chester County Rep. Melissa Shusterman. And a measure that puts a 20-cent deposit on cigarette packs was offered by Philadelphia Rep. Chris Rabb.
“Cigarette litter, 30 percent of all of our litter, is among the most toxic of all commonly littered items, containing a multiple of chemicals,” Rabb said at the news conference. “These chemicals casually tossed into our environment zip into our soil and our water supply. They contaminate our crops, our drinking water, and the animal and fish that we eat.”