A resolution encouraging voluntary action by businesses could be an alternative to a ban on single-use plastic bags, some Gettysburg Borough Council members suggested last week.
A ban would require legal research and precise definitions, which could be developed in collaboration with businesses and pro-ban activists, officials said.
The council took no action during the workshop session. Members discussed a ban request and petition presented in mid-May by the Gettysburg Rising (GR) local activist group. The petition bore 643 petition signatures gathered in a door-to-door effort aimed at borough residents, a GR representative said.
Council President Susan Naugle began last week’s conversation by citing GR’s online petition, which urges the council to consider an ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags at all businesses, impose a tax on such bags, and ask eateries to voluntarily limit distribution of plastic drinking straws to customers who request them.
Council member Wesley Heyser asked whether it would be legal for the borough to impose such a ban.
“I’ll have to look,” said council attorney Harry Eastman, who joined others in citing a ban approved last year by the Borough of Narberth near Philadelphia.
That borough’s measure contains extensive definitions and permits customers to use their own reusable bags, use a paper bag provided by the merchant, or pay the merchant 10 cents for a single-use bag, according to Narberth’s website.
“This is not a tax. Businesses will retain the 10-cent fee,” but businesses that violate the ordinance face graduated fines including $500 for a third infraction, Narberth’s website reads.
Naugle praised Gettysburg businesses that are already taking voluntary actions such as offering discounts for use of reusable bags.
Businesses need no council action to take steps such as offering a discount for use of reusable bags, Naugle said.
Because a ban would need to be very specific, it might make more sense for the council to pass a resolution encouraging voluntary action, council member Jake Schindel said.
A ban could lead to a “backlash,” Schindel said. He called for “a conversation” with businesses.
“I think that’s how this really has to happen,” Naugle said.
“There are a lot more plastic bags out there than people realize,” Schindel said, citing examples such as wrappers for comic books or candies.
“Gettysburg Rising as a group needs to help us define the parameters of this,” Schindel said.
Council member John Lawver asked whether a ban would include plastic bags used for newspapers, “or will they deliver my paper wet and receive my angry phone call?”
The Narberth ordinance exempts newspaper bags, produce bags at grocery stores, dry-cleaner bags, and others including bags “provided for use by a commercial establishment operated by a government agency,” according to the website.
“I’m concerned about driving business out of Gettysburg,” Lawver said, speculating that customers might simply go to supermarkets or other businesses outside the borough that do not require reusable bags.
Schindel said he has stopped automatically providing straws at his business, The Ragged Edge Coffee House, and a resolution could encourage other businesses to enter dialogue with the borough.
Naugle said she would contact Waste Connections, which collects recyclables and trash in the borough, to see whether special measures to collect and recycle plastic bags are possible.
During the workshop’s public comment period, resident Matt Moon rose to speak on behalf of GR.
Moon thanked the council for initiating discussion so soon after GR presented its petition. He cited United Nations studies about plastic pollution; described how he removes a significant amount of plastic waste monthly from Stevens Run, also known as the Tiber; and said “a polluted community is not sustainable.”
Several other audience members spoke, including resident Jenny Dumont, who also spoke for GR during the council’s mid-May meeting.
Dumont said “a lot of businesses are taking initiatives on their own,” and GR will look for ways, potentially including grants, to make reusable bags affordable and accessible. “We want to make this as easy as possible” for businesses and customers, she said.
Former borough business owner Lois Starkey said there would be support among businesspeople for action regarding plastic bags.
Gina Azzara called for a “complete ban” on plastic bags, saying, “We are a small community, but we have to start somewhere.”
Gettysburg could be the “spearhead” of a larger movement, Julieta Booz said.
Jennifer Cole said caring for the planet is congruent with being “good stewards of the battlefield.”
Reusable bags are easy to use and could be good venues for advertising or for fundraisers by nonprofit groups, she said.