The Circular Philadelphia Food Systems Working Group collaborated to set a legislative roadmap for how to reduce single-use plastics in Philadelphia.
Circular Philadelphia is proud to announce the release of its first-in-a-series of policy papers that we plan to release in advance of the next mayoral administration and new city council taking office in 2024. The policy paper, entitled Single-Use Plastic Legislation for Philadelphia: A Policy Guide, is intended to be a comprehensive, yet digestible, well-researched paper on how to achieve single-use plastic reductions through legislation. In short, it makes the case for the why and lays out clear guidance on the how to achieve this major goal. This work was the culmination of 11 Circular Philadelphia members and participants on our Food Systems Working Group putting in dozens of hours of work to create this paper.
Circular Philadelphia’s theory of change end goal of market transformation may seem like the most important part of the arc, but as the saying goes, all great journeys start with the first step. And for Circular Philadelphia, there is no more important step than identifying the policies that are either not present or blocking the path toward market transformation.
When it comes to single-use plastic, Circular Philadelphia identified one of those early roadblocks when our member organization Tiffin brought to our attention that restaurants and other food establishments were actually prohibited from using reusable take-out food containers. There is no better way to eliminating single-use than moving toward reusables. However, we also recognize that not every food establishment is going to do this voluntarily.
Read the single-use plastics policy paper online.
To make the case for action, the Circular Philadelphia team laid out the current state of affairs when it comes to single-use plastics. We looked at the current legislation existing in Philadelphia, such as the successful plastic bag ban. We researched data on the prevalence of single-use plastic as litter on our streets and its effects on our waste systems. And we explored all of the current alternatives such as reusables, composting and recycling that Philadelphians have today.
We then researched other solutions such as punitive legislation like bans and fees on single-use plastic in cities across the country as well as source prevention in states such as California, New York and New Jersey. We also explored market-based solutions being introduced in the private sector.
Crafting and Evaluating Policy Recommendations
With these examples, we improved upon the original legislative proposal that we released as a policy flyer in October of 2022 to introduce our concept and collect other feedback from the general public as well as at two public forums on the proposed legislation that we held in conjunction with the Sustainable Business Network in January and March of 2023. In the end, we came up with these three steps to create legislation that will achieve reductions in single-use plastic in Philadelphia.
Step 1: Ban Certain Single-Use Plastics for Take-Out Food
Step 2: Encourage a Shift to Reusable Containers by Imposing a Fee on Continued Use of Single-Use Plastics for Take-Out Food
Step 3: Reinvestment of Fee Proceeds to Clean Up Philly and Create a Transition Fund
Taking a cue from the former Philadelphia Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet’s strategy for creating policy, the Circular Philadelphia team ran this proposed legislation through three crucial questions to ensure the legislation’s success:
- Can we do it?
- Will it work?
- Is it worth it?
Our premise is that if we could not defend the legislation against these three questions, then we could not, in good conscience, promote this legislation. However, we were pleased and energized to be able to defend the legislation against these questions, and we are very optimistic for its success as a piece of legislation.
We conclude the paper by exploring budgetary considerations, environmental and economic benefits of the legislation, and the first steps legislators will need to take to begin the legislative process.
However, this paper is not just for legislators. This is for any stakeholder that wants common sense, yet effective, legislation to address the detrimental proliferation of single-use plastic in our global environment and on Philly’s streets. Together, we can make this legislation a reality and use it to accelerate the market transition to reusable and compostable take-out food containers in Philadelphia’s restaurants–so in five years reusables and compostables are the rule and not the exception.
But to get there, we need to take that first step on this journey. If you’d like to do that, please consider becoming a member of Circular Philadelphia and/or contacting firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how you can get involved.
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