Seeking to reduce negative environmental impact, some local residents are asking two municipalities to become the first in the Centre Region to enact fees for single-use plastic bags at area businesses.
Petitions and comments in support were presented on Monday to the State College Borough Council and Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors. Ferguson Township resident Pam Steckler, who spearheaded the campaign, said 77 township residents and 144 borough residents signed the petitions, both of which are above the numbers necessary to request action by the municipal governing bodies.
State College resident Terry Melton said the petition asks both municipalities to pass by Nov. 1 legislation which would require consumers to be charged a 25 cent fee for each plastic bag used at point of purchase at retail stores, restaurants, pharmacies and farmers markets. Of that fee, 10 cents would be paid to the municipality to be used for environmental protection and education initiatives. The other 15 cents would be kept by the business to cover costs of collection and disbursement.
Under the proposal, stores would be able to offer paper bags made of 100 percent recycled material with a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer waste. Stores should charge 10 cents to cover costs while encouraging customers to use their own bags, Melton said.
"Reusable, washable cotton canvas cloth bags are the best options for carrying purchases," Melton said. "All business will be encouraged to offer these for sale."
If approved, petitioners suggested beginning enforcement in six months. The petition asks for municipalities to provide signage to be used at registers explaining the ordinance and the detrimental effects of single-use plastic on the environment.
Steckler said that the petition is starting with State College and Ferguson Township, but that the goal is for it to be adopted for all municipalities in the Centre Region Council of Governments.
"Many folks from other municipalities were interested in getting this for their areas, too," Steckler said.
More than 160 communities in the United States have ordinances banning or requiring fees for single-use plastic bags. The local Sierra Club Moshannon Group has been working on advocating for plastic bag fees in the region for more than a year, Steckler said.
The petition also advocates for municipalities to consider banning use of plastic straws and stirrers, and Styrofoam cups and takeout boxes.
"Single-use plastics are suffocating our oceans, despoiling our rivers and roadways, killing land and sea life and are having a huge impact on the health and well-being of our common home, Earth," Steckler said.
She noted that it is estimated that by 2050, the amount of plastic in the oceans will outweigh fish if nothing is done to reduce plastic use.
The petition also states that reducing plastic bag usage also helps reduce dependence on fossil fuels, since most plastics are derived from oil or gas.
Steckler said she hoped Ferguson Township and State College would have the issue on the agendas for their Oct. 1 meetings. Peter Buckland, chair of the Ferguson Township supervisors, said that the board has 90 days to verify the petition signatures and put the matter on a meeting agenda for consideration.
State College Borough Council did not address the petition and commenters directly, but before it was brought forward, council member Jesse Barlow said he is well aware of the petition and talked with officials from State College and other municipalities about it.
"I think that it is doable," said Barlow, who added that plastic bags weren't common in grocery stores until the late 1970s. "Plastic waste is too much a part of our waste stream. It’s a large part of our oceans. It’s changing the nature of life in our oceans."
At the start of the borough council meeting, council members unanimously approved a resolution supporting the elimination of plastic straws in the borough and encouraging local businesses to provide alternative options to reduce plastic straw waste.
The resolution states that 500 million plastic straws are thrown away daily. Straws are not biodegradable, but photodegradable, breaking down into smaller pieces that are ingested by land and sea animals and can eventually make their way into the food chain and water supply, the resolution said.
The resolution is a position statement to encourage plastic straw elimination, but does not have an enforcement mechanism.