Bring Your Reusable Bags to Town
In December 2022, Doylestown Borough Council passed an ordinance to eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags at shops and restaurants for carrying goods from checkout. The ordinance took effect on June 23, 2023. The goal of the ordinance is to mitigate the long-term health concerns and environmental damage caused by plastic waste. By passing this ordinance, the Borough joined a growing number of municipalities across the US that have taken action to reduce the impact of single-use plastics on their communities.
The full ordinance is available here.
Key Requirements of the Single-Use Plastic Bag Ordinance
The ordinance applies to all restaurants and retail establishments of all sizes in Doylestown Borough. Starting June 23, 2023, all single-use plastic bags, regardless of thickness, will no longer be provided by businesses in the Borough. Non-recycled paper bags will also not be available.
The ordinance permits the following types of bags:
- Paper bags containing at least 40 percent recycled content
- Reusable bags that meet the criteria included in the ordinance (e.g., they must be made of cloth, washable fabric, or polypropylene and have stitched handles)
From mid-April through the end of August 2023, retail establishments are required to post at all points of sale conspicuous signage informing customers about the new requirements of the ordinance. Sample signage is available in the section below.
Businesses existing in the Borough prior to adoption of the ordinance may be eligible for a time extension based on remaining bag inventory. After June 23 (or after the extension, if applicable), businesses that violate the ordinance will receive a written warning. Subsequent violations would be subject to potential fines.
To help businesses comply with the ordinance’s signage requirements, the EAC has created a sign that establishments are expected to download and use. There are graphics for use on social media, email newsletters, and digital signage to help spread the word before customers arrive. Click the download materials link to view the available digital resources.
Background Articles on the Environmental Impact of Plastic
- Plastic Litter in Pennsylvania — From 2019 “Litter in Pennsylvania” Study
- Summary of PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center study, “Microplastics in Pennsylvania, A Survey of Waterways”, March 2021
- Ocean Conservancy Information Sheet – Plastics in the Ocean
- EPA Information Page on Aquatic Trash, including Plastics
- Statewide Plastic Bag Legislation in the US
Development of the Ordinance
In 2016, a Doylestown high school student led a successful initiative to convert the school cafeteria from using polystyrene trays to reusable trays. Inspired partly by this effort, Doylestown Borough’s Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) began discussing and researching how to reduce plastic waste in our community. Over the years, the EAC’s work has included meeting with business owners about the plastic-waste issue, hosting a presentation on sustainable restaurant practices, reviewing life-cycle analyses, and considering alternatives to single-use plastics.
In 2019, the EAC distributed a survey on single-use plastics to Borough residents and businesses. The survey indicated that a significant majority of respondents support limiting the use of single-use plastics. (You can review the survey results here: Plastics Reduction Survey.) In 2021, the EAC decided to focus on reducing one prevalent type of plastic waste, single-use plastic bags. The EAC completed a draft plastic bag ordinance in 2022 and submitted it to the Environmental and Recreation Committee for consideration. The EAC also held an information session attended by over 50 Borough businesses and residents who provided valuable feedback about the proposed ordinance.
Based on the community feedback, the EAC adjusted the ordinance and submitted it to Borough Council.
The final ordinance was passed on December 19, 2022, and it begins to take effect on June 23, 2023.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why ban plastic bags?
Single-use plastic bags litter streets, pollute sewer systems, and present hazards to wildlife and the natural environment. In a recent study, microplastic contamination was found in 53 Pennsylvania riverways, including the Tohickon and Neshaminy Creeks in Bucks County.
Single-use plastic bags do not biodegrade. They are also not recyclable and thus generate significantly increased hours of staff time at recycling facilities by getting caught in equipment.
Banning plastic bags will help reduce waste, protect the environment, and save money.
Which businesses will be affected?
The ban will affect all retail establishments of all sizes in Doylestown Borough that make bags available for carryout items (such as food, clothing, home goods, etc.) and/or for delivery. These businesses include establishments, indoor or outdoor, where food or other products are offered to the public for sale, including supermarkets, convenience stores, shops, service stations, clothing stores, restaurants, food trucks, farmers’ markets, and delivery services.
What will be banned?
The proposed ordinance prohibits retail establishments from providing on-site or with a delivery:
- All single-use plastic bags, regardless of thickness, defined as a bag that is manufactured from plastic using a blown-film extrusion process. Therefore, the ordinance will ban ALL bags we commonly refer to as single-use plastic bags.
- Any paper bag that does not contain at least 40 percent recycled content and does not meet the labeling criteria set in the legislation.
What kind of bags will still be allowed?
Retail establishments will still be permitted to provide reusable bags that:
- are specifically designed and manufactured for multiple uses
- are made of cloth or other machine washable fabric or polypropylene
- have stitched handles
Retail establishments will still be permitted to provide paper bags that:
- contain a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled content
- contain no old-growth fiber
- are labeled with the name of the manufacturer and the percentage of post-consumer recycled content of the bag
Does the 40% recycled content rule apply to all paper bags?
Will any bags be exempt?
The following bags are exempt:
- Laundry or dry-cleaning bags.
- Bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for use as garbage bags or to contain pet waste or yard waste.
- Bags used inside a retail establishment by a customer to deliver perishable items to the point of sale (including bags used to package bulk items such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, candy, meats, fish, unwrapped prepared foods, bakery goods, flowers, potted plants, or similar items)
- Newspaper bags
- Bags used solely to contain live animals, such as fish or insects sold in a pet store
- Non-handled bags used to protect a purchased item from damaging or contaminating other purchased items when placed in a reusable bag or recycled paper bag
What are the signage requirements?
Beginning on April 23, 2023, and for at least 6 months thereafter, retail establishments are required to post at all points of sale conspicuous signage informing customers that single-use plastic bags and non-recycled paper bags will no longer be provided by the establishment as of the effective date of the proposed ordinance. The signage must explain what types of bags and purchases are impacted and must provide other information the Borough may require by regulation.
Do I have to get rid of my existing stock of plastic bags?
What if I need more time to use up my plastic bags and move to paper or reusable bags?
Will businesses charge customers for bags?
Businesses have the option to charge for bags to help defray the cost of eliminating single-use plastic bags in favor or recycled paper bags or reusable bags. Charging a fee for paper bags is also an effective way to encourage customers to use reusable bags when possible.
Please note the ordinance does not require businesses to charge customers for bags.
What are the fines for non-compliance?
Prior to implementation, there will be an awareness and education period of 6 months, in order to provide businesses time to prepare and comply with the law.
Beginning 6 months after ordinance passage, any retail establishment that fails to comply will be subject to a warning notice. Subsequent failures to comply will be subject to violation notices which will carry penalties of $50 for the first violation, $100 for a second violation within 12 months of a first violation, and $200 for each additional violation within 12 months of a first violation.