Paper or Bust: West Chester’s Plan for a Plastic Ban

West Chester's growers market, farmers market west chester pa
A ban on single-use plastic bags would extend to the Grower’s Market except those thin handle-less bags used for veggies or meat.

We recently got back from a week down at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware and one of the things I noticed, other than the pre-fourth crowds were blessedly light, was all our drinks came with paper straws from our Greenman smoothies to my iced coffee to our waters at DogFish Head. 

Apparently Rehoboth isn’t alone in their efforts to curb the single-use plastic, starting on June 1, Brigantine, Avalon, and Stone Harbor joined a growing list of New Jersey shore towns banning plastic bags – and West Chester is looking to get in on the action too. 

Now, if you’re thinking, “Didn’t West Chester already ban single-use plastic bags?” 

You’d be correct, kind of…

Last September, former students from West Chester Friends school made a presentation to Borough Council on the many environmental problems associated with using single-use plastic bags. Their effective presentation ended with a plea: ban single-use plastic bags in the Borough of West Chester, and so, Borough Council did, and now there are no more plastic bags in all the land. 

Kidding. Turns out, that vote was just a symbolic first step. 

Before the ban can go into effect an official ordinance has to be written and that ordinance has to be subject to a public comment period. 

That’s where we stand today, the ordinance has been drafted and the public comment period is now open. 

Am I up to speed now? 

Not quite, while West Chester was working on its proposal, PA State Senator Jake Corman of Centre County was working on a proposal of his own. Mr. Corman who has both a plastic manufacturer and a township considering a plastic-ban in his district, said he wanted to study the economical and environmental costs of a ban. So he slipped a one-year moratorium on all plastic-bag bans into a recent state-budget bill and that bill was subsequently signed into law.   

That’s disappointing. So, we’ll pick this discussion up next year? 

Hold on. No one’s singing just yet. In an email with Christiane Torres of Plastic Free Please and a member of West Chester’s Sustainability Advisory Committee, she helped explain West Chester’s current situation to me. “So the ban on the ban would affect us UNLESS the Borough will use its Home Rule Charter that would allow West Chester to implement an exception and move forward with our ban,” she stated in an email.

Can I ask a follow up question? What is a Home Rule Charter?

I was wondering the same thing. According to Wikipedia, “a home rule municipality in Pennsylvania is one incorporated under its own unique charter.” In 1994 West Chester held a ballot referendum and voted to accept the designation and the limited autonomy increases that go with it. Again according to Wikipedia, rather than acting where authorized by law, home rule municipalities can act anywhere except when expressly limited by law. 

West Chester’s Single-Use Plastic Bag and Straw Ban 

paper straw
Several local establishments like Local Yoga Cafe, La Baguette Magique, and the newly opened Gryphon coffee already use paper or other non-plastic straws.

Now that we are all caught up, let’s take a look at exactly what’s in this ban and who it will effect. (If you would like to read the ban for yourself you can find it here. If you would prefer to skip all the whereas(es), I’ll summarize it for you.) 

What is included under the ban?

Under the proposed ordinance all single-use, carry-out plastic bags (think those thin plastic bags with handles) and single-use, plastic straws will be banned from being used within the Borough of West Chester. 

With the following exceptions: 

  1. Product Bags; (a very thin plastic bag without handles used to prevent meat/veggie contamination, the kind you find in the produce department of a grocery store.)
  2. Newspaper bags
  3. Bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for use as food storage bags, garbage bags, or pet waste bags.
  4. Straws packaged with the drink outside the Borough (your juice-box scenario).
  5. Straws required to accommodate a disability

What will I use instead?

  • A paper bag as long as it contains at least 40% post consumer recycled material, states its recyclable or reusable or it can be composted.
  • A reusable bag (cloth, sturdy plastic, etc.)
  • A paper straw

Remind me again, why are we doing this?

For the environment – see here, here, and here, the trash factor and the clean up costs. And we are not alone, actually, if you’ve been to the shore or the beach this summer, you’ve likely already encountered a town that has abandoned the plastic. 

Including Brigantine, Avalon, Stone Harbor, Beach Haven, Belmar, Bradley Beach, Harvey Cedars, Little Silver, Long Beach Township, Longport, Monmouth Beach, Point Pleasant, Somers Point, and Ventnor.

Ok, I think I’ve got it but can you sum it up in one sentence?

Sure. Effective January 1, 2020, no single-use plastic bags, no plastic straws, if the Home Rule Charter exception is used. If not, same, just change the effective date to 2021. 

If you want to support the ban (or if you don’t), there is a public hearing on the topic July 17 at 6:30 at Borough Hall. See you there!

Plus, how the borough is getting ready for your electric car and our stance on climate change.

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