Looking for an alternative to an outright ban, a Pennsylvania state senator plans to introduce legislation that would impose a two-cent fee on each single-use plastic bag provided at checkout by retailers in the commonwealth. The bill, authored by Senator Daylin Leach, would mandate one penny of the fee go to retailers to improve their internal recycling practices, while the other penny would go to support state recycling programs.
"You run an errand and it takes a half hour and the bags stay around for 5,000 years," said Leach. "Our goal is not to collect the fee, but to encourage shoppers to make sustainable choices at the checkout counter."
While many communities across the U.S. have enacted single-use plastic bag bans, no state has put in place a fee or tax. Legislatures in New Jersey, New York and Vermont are considering single-use fees, while lawmakers in Maryland this year pushed for a statewide five-cent-a-bag fee, but the measure ultimately failed to win passage. Among major cities, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, D.C. do have laws similar to Leach's fee proposal.
In explaining the impetus for his bill, Leach said plastic bags threaten about 700,000 birds and marine mammals every year. He also said the typical U.S. family uses about 60 plastic bags in just four trips to the grocery store. "Plastic shopping bags represent a disconnect in our consumer culture," Leach said. "They clutter our urban areas and contaminate our waterways."
Despite the clear backing of environmentalists, Leach could face resistance in his efforts to impose single-use bag fees. Pennsylvania's governor, Tom Corbett, does not support Leach's bill, relaying through a spokesperson that bag fees place an "unnecessary burden" on families. "Whether a private business charges for plastic bags should remain the decision of the private business," the spokesperson said. Kevin Shrivers, the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses of Pennsylvania, has gone as far as to call Leach's proposal "a tax scheme" that would benefit foreign makers of cloth bags.