Gettysburg Borough Council members Monday voiced support for reduced use of disposable plastic shopping bags, but were reluctant to impose a proposed fee.
“We’re not ready for an ordinance,” President Susan Naugle said after extensive discussion.
No formal action took place during the workshop session, which featured input from representatives of Kennie’s Market and Gettysburg Rising (GR). The latter approached the council in May to propose an ordinance imposing a fee on each bag, which would be paid by the customer and retained by the store.
An ordinance would be “totally unenforceable,” and the legal costs of researching, drafting, and advertising it would be “just a waste of borough money,” council member John Lawver said.
Member Wesley Heyser said he would not support an ordinance, but he and others said they could support a non-binding resolution aimed at curbing distribution of single-use bags.
Action would be more effective at the state level, said Heyser, who noted Pennsylvania has approximately 2,500 municipalities. Rather than pursuing “patchwork legislation,” the borough’s efforts would be better spent on its own responsibilities, he said.
“We need to cast the net wider,” member Patricia Lawson said.
Member Jake Schindel said he would support a letter from the council urging Adams County officials to consider action.
“We need to bring more people into the conversation,” member Charles Strauss said.
The council is not in a position to expend many resources on the issue, but could do things such as recognizing businesses that take steps to reduce plastic use, Strauss said.
GR began by approaching county officials, who suggested the group work with the state, but state officials suggested beginning at the municipal level, GR member Matt Moon said during the workshop’s public comment section.
“We care about the environment, too,” said Ralph Flores, manager of Kennie’s Market, 217 W. Middle St.
Switching to paper bags would cost the borough’s only supermarket tens of thousands of dollars annually, he said, while adding a 10-cent fee per plastic bag would “hurt our fixed-income and lower-income customers.”
The proposal would “force customers out of the borough” to supermarkets in neighboring townships, Flores said.
Plastic bags would remain available under GR’s proposal, which would merely impose a cost on the user, which the store would keep, resident Jenny Dumont said during the workshop’s public comment section.
Incentives such as the reusable bag discount offered by Kennie’s are laudable but less effective in reducing plastic use, said Dumont, who also addressed the council in May.
GR would be glad to work with community organizations to make reusable bags available to those who desire them, Dumont said.
Flores said reusable bags are great but can spread bacteria if not kept clean, and plastic bags used by Kennie’s are made from recycled material.
Dumont said activists would “appreciate” a non-binding resolution by the council, “but I’m not sure it would be enough.”
GR volunteers collected hundreds of petition signatures in favor of action by the borough, but encountered only “a handful” of opponents, said Dumont.
Discouraging use of plastic bags and straws is “no longer a radical idea,” Moon said, pointing to actions by other states and nations. He thanked the council for its “considered discussion of our initiative.”
Naugle conferred with the borough’s waste and recyclables hauler, Waste Connections. She said she learned plastic bags are a problem for the company because they are easily carried away by wind and tying knots in bags can help.
The council’s attorney, Harold Eastman, said he had not had an opportunity to research the legality of an ordinance.