Blue bags begone!

Delaney Kraus | staff photographer | Kylie Mosler fills up her paper bag with Campus Market snacks and treats to prepare for the day.

Rebecca Donnelly | staff writer

Don’t forget your reusable bags when shopping for Halloween candy this year because plastic grocery bags will be officially banned in all operating retail establishments within the City of Pittsburgh starting Oct. 14.

According to a release from City Council, Americans use an estimated 100 billion plastic bags per year. These bags often end up littering the streets and sidewalks, which increases the presence of microplastics in our soil. In order to promote a healthier and more sustainable community, the City of Pittsburgh passed the Plastic Bag Ban in April of 2022.

The ban includes the prohibition of plastic bags for checkout, pick-up and delivery.

Erika Strassburger, City Councilperson, was the first to propose the Plastic Bag Ban in Pittsburgh, with the purpose of changing destructive behaviors toward the environment.

“Plastic bags will be prohibited at point of sale, and paper bags for $0.10 will be offered instead,” she said.

She hopes the fee incentivizes customers to bring their own reusable bags to stores.

Plastic bags are a major contributor to climate change because they are made from oil, which is a non-renewable natural resource.

According to a study conducted by Penn State University, the standard plastic bag will take about 1,000 years to fully biodegrade.

Strassburger said that while paper bags are a slightly more environmentally friendly alternative, paper bags also lead to the clearcutting of forests, which is the complete removal of all trees in one operation.

While retailers are not required to provide alternative bags at checkout, if they offer paper carryout bags, they are prohibited from containing old-growth fiber and must be made from at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content.

Retailers are also permitted to provide reusable bags made from materials specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuses.

Janet Baine, a Giant Eagle employee, said that although customers aren’t happy about the ban, they will be switching to all paper bags.

“We need to keep Pittsburgh clean, and I think that banning plastic bags is a great place to start. Once our customers see the benefits it’s going to have on our city, they will accept it,” she said.

The ban applies to all retail establishments in Pittsburgh where food or other products are sold, and bags are used for carryout items or delivery. This includes but is not limited to department stores, restaurants, supermarkets, clothing stores, cafeterias, festivals, food trucks, farmers’ markets and delivery services.

While the ban greatly affects Pittsburgh retailers, it will also impact local universities. John Levi, the Resident District Manager for Duquesne University Dining, said that Duquesne will be participating in the ban.

“We wholeheartedly support the city of Pittsburgh’s efforts in this landmark initiative to promote a cleaner, more sustainable community by reducing the number of single-use plastic bags,” said Levi.

Duquesne Dining will offer students, faculty and staff affordable, reusable totes to purchase at various university dining locations to replace single-use plastic bags.
Levi said that while they are offering reusable totes to purchase, Duquesne still encourages students and others to utilize their own reusable bags. Duquesne plans to reach out to students through a marketing campaign leading up to the Oct. 14 ban.

Cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco have already prohibited plastic bags from being used by their retailers, and now the trend has come to the east coast.
While the Plastic Bag Ban is a big step for Pittsburgh environmentally, the city still has a lot further to go.

Strassburger said her next focus is Pittsburgh’s Climate Action Plan, which has a goal to improve air and water quality. While she doesn’t see any more bans coming in the near future, she hopes for more collaborative work between the city and its partners, including the counties. Strassburger’s ultimate goal: a zero-waste future for Pittsburgh.