Consumers almost doubled reusable bag use since Philly’s plastic bag ban

Ban took three months to accelerate, but has had sustained effects.

Almost 200 million “disposable” plastic bags avoided landing in the city of brotherly love over the past year. For a visual, that’s equal to filling City Hall with plastic bags every 8 months.

Philadelphia’s plastic bag ban has led to a significant decrease in plastic bag usage, according to a new study. The study found that in the year since the city began enforcing the single-use plastic bag ordinance, there has been a measurable change in shopper behavior.

How bags used changed before and after the ban. Source: Plastic Bag Ban Report

Specifically, key takeaways from the study include:

  • Prior to the ban, 64 percent of shoppers used at least one plastic bag while grocery shopping at stores in the study. After the ban was fully implemented, this percentage dropped to near zero.
  • There was an increase in the number of shoppers using paper bags, reusable bags, or choosing not to use a bag at all.?
  • The proportion of consumers using a reusable bag almost doubled from 22 percent to 42 percent.
  • The study estimates that the ban prevented over 200 million disposable plastic bags from being distributed in the city in its first year.

The study was conducted by Daniel Banko-Ferran, a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, with support from Dr. Syon Bhanot of Swarthmore College and in partnership with the Mayor’s Office.

The study also found that the ban sustained affected consumption patterns at sample stores, showing that after an adjustment period, new policies can encourage long-term changes in consumer behavior with substantial impacts. Adoption took time to accelerate, but plastic bag usage gradually decreased in the city over three months and remained steady near zero for the rest of the study. Paper bag usage peaked six months after the ban was implemented before receding slightly.

The plastic bag ban ordinance was proposed and enforced beginning in 2021 by the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability (OTIS), Department of Commerce, Office of Sustainability (OOS), Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I), and the Office of the Mayor. Under the ban, retail establishments can no longer provide single-use plastic bags or paper bags that don’t meet specific requirements. Businesses can, however, provide reusable bags or recycled content paper bags for customers.

Mayor Kenney said, “We know that keeping our beautiful city clean and clear of trash is key for the health and wellbeing of all Philadelphians. This success of the Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance shows how the City, together with local business and consumers, can stop waste before it starts. The City will continue to identify policies and initiatives that can improve quality of life for residents without hurting local businesses.”

Councilmember Mark Squilla added, “I am pleased to see the positive impact the ban has had on the environment and the cleanliness of our city in just one year.”

Julie Hancher

Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake.

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