MEDIA—Half of the State Street district businesses are ahead of the recently passed borough ordinance prohibiting single-use plastic bags, straws and stirrers.
Media’s ordinance is similar to other communities in prohibiting the use of single-use plastic bags, straws or drink stirrers as of Jan. 1. Enforcement will start in July 2023. For those who have a medical condition, they can continue to use plastic straws.
Instead of the paper bags, patrons can bring their use their own reusable bags or borough businesses are given the option to charge patrons 10 cents for paper bags containing a minimum 40 percent recycled content.
Although Media officials highlight their emphasis on incentivizing the program, there is a fine schedule. First, warnings will be issued, followed by fines ranging from $50 to $300 for a third offense.
“We really don’t want to penalize the businesses,” Media Borough Councilman Mark Paikoff and liaison to the borough Environmental Advisory Committee, said. “We just want to encourage participation. We’re really looking for creative solutions that will meet everybody’s needs.”
Haverford was the first municipality in Delaware County to adopt a single-use plastic bag restriction in April. A month later, a similar measure went into effect for the entire state of New Jersey, after it had been signed into law a year and a half earlier.
The issue was something that had been discussed by Media’s Environmental Advisory Council.
“Zero waste is an important movement that’s going on across the county right now,” EAC member Erica Burman said. “It’s really an exciting time for zero waste in Delaware County.”
As Delaware County is required to submit an updated 10-year Municipal Waste Management Plan to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection next year, county council hired Zero Waste Associates to help craft a plan that incorporates zero waste strategies into it.
Also, last year, Media Borough Council adopted its own zero waste resolution and also launched the first free borough-wide composting program.
“At that time, we had talked about doing a plastic bag or straw ordinance so we looked at best practices from other communities,” Burman said, adding that a Penn Environment forum was then held with approximately a dozen municipalities around the concept.
Burman explained some of the environmental challenges associated with plastic use.
“At the basis of it, it is a very large waste issue,” she said. “Plastics are toxic from pre-production to disposal. So, we’re really looking at ways to reduce unnecessary plastics.”
In addition, Burman said plastic is intrinsically linked to climate change, fossil fuels are used to create plastic and it also leaches into waterways.
“A Penn Environment study last year found microplastics in all of Delaware County’s creeks,” she said, noting that finding and the movement of other communities towards banning plastic straws inspired Media to act.
Soon, a draft ordinance began to take shape.
“At that point, we wanted to make sure we were getting the input of the businesses in town,” Paikoff said. “We knew that with a really difficult economy in the first and second quarters of the year, that we didn’t want to burden them with anything else.”
So, they reached out to the Media Business Authority to do a focus group with business leaders.
In those conversations, what surfaced was the businesses’ concern about charging patrons 10-cents per bag, if they didn’t have one with them.
“We wanted the businesses to be able to recoup their investment,” Paikoff said. “Any of those monies would come directly back to the business. The reason for the fee was to really encourage our local residents to use reusable bags rather than paper bags.”
He said they learned the business community had a different perspective.
“What our business leaders said was in this current economy, this is really not something that is tenable,” Paikoff said. “We don’t want to put a charge on their customers’ tab.”
So, the ordinance language was changed so that the 10-cent charge was completely optional.
Media Business Authority Executive Director Dave Fairman said among the 100 restaurants, retail and personal services shops in the State Street district, collecting a fee was of great concern.
“We knew this was going to be a challenge just in expenses for our small businesses,” he said, explaining that the cost of plastic bags was much more economical to business proprietors than purchasing paper ones. “We will be providing businesses with alternative sources or suppliers for compliant materials.”
And both Paikoff and Fairman said there are efforts evaluating bulk purchasing for borough businesses.
A fair number of Media businesses have already implemented such practices far before the measure was passed.
“They have been sensitive to this situation and preparing for this situation even before the ordinance was brought to the forefront,” Fairman said, adding that a survey conducted by Burman found that half of the borough businesses already comply.
Burman spoke about how Media’s ordinance is an important building block towards moving to zero waste.
“While plastic bags and straws make a small percentage of the trash that is going to the incinerator or landfill, … we are just trying to reduce our trash overall and it’s an excellent education opportunity for people to start thinking about how plastic is involved in their everyday lives,” she said.
“I hope that this inspires other municipalities to look into reducing waste through ordinances or other means or composting because there is a lot of momentum across the county with a long-term plan in reducing waste,” Burman added.
“In the long run, hopefully our streams will be cleaner, our garbage will be less and people in town will be encouraged to think about the impact that zero waste will have not only on their lives but also on their planet,” he said.
For more information on the Media single-use plastic ban ordinance, visit https://www.mediaborough.com/eac/single-use-plastic-bag-and-straw-ordinance