Clean Water Action Backs Philadelphia as it Takes on Pennsylvania in Court Over Plastics Ban

Wednesday, March 3, 2021
PA_Plastic_bags_Photo by Kelly O'Day

Clean Water Action on behalf of its 3,213 Philadelphia members came out today in support of the City of Philadelphia’s lawsuit challenging the Commonwealth’s pre-emption of Philadelphia’s plastic shopping bag ban. The lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania and is the City’s attempt to push back against the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s actions the last two budget cycles to included last minute provisions that kept creating yearly deals for when municipalities could begin implementing laws they passed to regulate and reduce single use plastics in their community.

“There is no doubt in my mind these ongoing tactics are an effort by conservative state legislators to specifically target Philadelphia and attempt to protect their benefactors in the plastics industry. Yet the scope of their actions actually hurt every Pennsylvania resident concerned about the environment and looking for their elected officials to take the most effective action they can take to reduce litter and plastic pollution,” said Maurice Sampson, Eastern Pennsylvania Director for Clean Water Action.

The suit is based on the “single-subject rule,” which prevents lawmakers from inserting provisions into a bill that veer away from the titled subject of the bill. Five other municipalities- West Chester, Narberth, Pittsburgh, Lower Merion, and Solebury- have joined as co-plaintiffs.

Clean Water Action and its allies among the L’tter Free Philly Coalition are exploring additional ways in which they can participate in this lawsuit and support the city. The Coalition includes other environmental organizations and many individuals and organizations from the City’s black and brown communities.  The issues in this lawsuit affect the environment and disproportionately impact these communities, important voices to be heard. 

Since the passage of Mayor Jim Kenney’s plastic ban in December of 2019, Clean Water Action has been working with City Councilmember Mark Squilla and the Coalition to spearhead the introduction of the “Bring Your Own Bag” (BYOBag) bill which will impose a fee on all single-use bags. In the absence of a fee, the cost of free paper single-use bags will raise the costs of consumer goods by $80 to 100 million dollars imposing a disproportionate impact on the underserved. A study prepared by Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office concluded adding a 10 cent fee on shopping bags was presented as “the most efficient solution” it cutting the demand for almost two million single use plastic and paper bags and saving Pennsylvanian’s $84 million a year  Fees provide an incentive for shoppers to use reusable bags and studies across the country demonstrate a 50 percent reduction of all single-use bags within six months and up to 80 percent after the first year.

“To be clear, eliminating the preemption is the only the next step in the plastics pollution fight. We must then use that victory to move forward with correcting this serious omission in Philadelphia’s current plastic shopping bag ban. Getting this right on the sixth try time will be the charm. Let’s make it happen!” Sampson said.


Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking and people power to the table. We will protect clean water in the face of attacks from a polluter friendly Administration.

Maurice Sampson, Eastern Pennsylvania Director