It’s been a strange year for Mother Earth. Carbon emissions dropped then returned. Oil prices plummeted. Creating new plastic became cheaper, while recycling it got harder. After years of championing reduction, plastic products were everywhere. Plastic coverings became a pandemic security blanket of sorts. So, now on the verge of another Earth Day, I was curious where among this upheaval West Chester stood in its efforts to eliminate single-use plastic waste in the borough.
“West Chester’s single-use plastic ordinance remains on the books, and enforcement will commence as soon as we are permitted and can communicate a new enforcement date to the business community,” said Will Williams, West Chester Director of Sustainability.
If you recall, two summers ago (I know. It seems so far away) West Chester signed an ordinance banning single-use plastic in the Borough. The ban was met with much fanfare and a bit of trepidation because the state had just banned the banning of plastic until it could study the economic effects of such bans on the economy. Nothing happened, either with the ban or the threatened state brought lawsuits. Then of course, there was COVID-19 and anything not plastic and single-use was deemed bad for your health so the PA legislature saw an opportunity and last summer the ban was extended again. Under the current wording, the earliest the West Chester ban can go into effect is mid-October.
“No reason for that prohibition was given, but West Chester has complied and delayed enforcement in our community,” said Will.
Well, no more.
“I understand why the plastic industry is pushing back, but these laws are not about eliminating plastic from our lives. Plastic is critical to life in the 21st century. We’re just trying to curb the plastic that gets used for a moment.”Will Williams, West Chester Director of Sustainability
Earlier this year West Chester joined Philadelphia, Narberth and Lower Merion in suing the state for overstepping. (For you fiscal hawks out there, note this support comes at no cost to the Borough.) The municipalities are suing citing the “single subject rule” of the Pennsylvania Constitution. According to State Impact Pennsylvania, “The constitutional provision prevents lawmakers from passing bills containing more than one subject, except in the case of an appropriation bill.”
“I understand why the plastic industry is pushing back,” says Will, “but at the same time these laws are not about eliminating plastic from our lives. Plastic is critical to life in the 21st century. We’re just trying to curb the plastic that gets used for a moment but is tough to dispose of properly, and therefore causes long-lasting environmental degradation and economic consequences.”
West Chester Sustainable Storefronts
“It was a really easy decision to join the program. Honestly we would have done it sooner if not for the pandemic upending our operations.”Dan Shea and Morgan Harris of Meatball U.
While the future of the ban plays out either in the court or legislature, West Chester is moving its mission of minimizing plastic waste forward. Working with the Sustainability Advisory Committee West Chester has created the Sustainable Storefronts initiative to encourage businesses to take it upon themselves to curb their single-use plastic. Participating stores are recognized by the Borough for their efforts, but timing has been tough. Root’s the inaugural member of the program signed on in November, the height of the pandemic.
“Participation has been modest – it’s obviously a tough time for the business community and I understand why this is not their focus,” says Will, but there are signs that could change.
Earlier this month the CDC updated its guidance regarding transmission of COVID-19 via surfaces, and interest among the business community seems to be growing. In the last two weeks alone, two new businesses have signed on.
“It was a really easy decision to join the program,” said Dan Shea and Morgan Harris of Meatball U. one of the newest members of the program. “Honestly we would have done it sooner if not for the pandemic upending our operations.”
Criteria for Participation
|Restaurants, bars and Cafes (Choose 3 of 5)||Retail (Commit to all)|
|Use recyclable paper bags for takeout||Use recyclable paper bags|
|No plastic straws – biodegradable option by request||Encourage customers to BYO bags|
|No plastic takeout containers|
|100% reusable wares for on-site dining|
There are criteria for different business types (restaurants/bars vs. retail). Participating businesses choose from a menu of items. Meatball U., for example, have opted out of Styrofoam and are offering diners biodegradable straws when they ask. While retailer, The Shop on Market Street has eliminated plastic bags and is encouraging patrons to bring their own reusable bags when possible.
“Being an active participant in the West Chester community is important to us at The Shop on Market Street,” said The Shop on Market Street co-owner Ashly *. “So doing something small that makes a big impact, like eliminating single use plastic, was a no brainer for us.”
“The program was designed to be obtainable,” said Will. “There are a ton of businesses that qualify already, but we just haven’t been able to get the message out. We have info cards and flyers, and anyone who is interested can obtain some from me to distribute to their favorite establishments.”
Take that as your challenge, West Chester. Go out to spread the word and get your favorite locations on board.
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