Plastic bags and trash

Plastic bags and other discarded items collect near the Red Rose Commons shopping center along Fruitville Pike in this file photo.

Could a nudge from City Council get Lancaster stores and their customers to think twice about using plastic bags?

On Tuesday, members will consider a resolution encouraging Lancaster retailers — whether downtown or in places like Park City Center, Red Rose Commons and Pitney Road Plaza, all of which are within city limits — “to promote and utilitze reusable bags” to reduce the use of disposable plastic ones.

Other jurisdictions have enacted bag fees or outright prohibitions. Lancaster’s action would be a nonbinding advisory, but it could still have a positive effect, city resident Randolph Hernandez, who proposed it, told council at last week’s committee meeting.

Elsewhere, nonbinding measures have won acceptance and become a “badge of honor,” he said.

Hernandez provided a list of 10 local businesses and five environmental groups that support the resolution. Reaction has been overwhelmingly favorable, he said; getting more support is just a matter of finding the time to make the calls.

“Every business that I have approached, not one has said no to me,” he said.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Tracy Artus, owner of Miesse Candies & Ice Cream Parlor, one of the 10 businesses.

Miesse is working on eliminating plastic completely, she said. The company recently found a type of recyclable bag that it thinks suits its needs, and plans to start using it within a couple of months, once its remaining stock of plastic bags is used up.

100 billion a year

Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The average bag — made of material that takes hundreds of years to decompose — is used for less than 15 minutes.

Worldwide, plastics are a rapidly growing environmental problem. In the oceans, plastic debris kills an estimated 100,000 marine animals a year, according to the Earth Resource Foundation.

In Lancaster, a lot of plastic — bags, bottles, straws and more — ends up in the sewer system’s catch basins, adding to the debris that trash crews have to collect, public works director Charlotte Katzenmoyer said.

Jurisdictions that impose fees or bans have seen dramatic changes. In China, a ban reduced plastic bag use by two-thirds in the first year, while in Ireland a fee reduced use by 94 percent.

It would be disruptive to impose a ban right away, council President James Reichenbach said, but taking action now to educate the community is a vital step, he said. That way, people will be prepared if a ban were eventually deemed advisable. 

At Park City, it would be up to individual retailers to decide whether to act in accordance with the city’s resolution, senior general manager Rachel Gallagher said.

Reusable canvas shopping bags are readily available at Central Market, spokeswoman Elyse Pollak said. Reducing the use of disposable plastic is an important ongoing topic of discussion among standholders and for the nonprofit that oversees the landmark venue, she said.

Anne Williams, spokeswoman for the Lancaster City Alliance, said the resolution will be brought up at the alliance’s monthly downtown merchant meetings “to ensure this is a community driven effort.”