🛍️🥤Banning Single-Use Plastic Bags, Polystyrene & Making Straws Available Upon Request in Upper Moreland, PA! 🗳️
This (Plastic Free) July, Suzette Munley of Upper Moreland, PA, helped her town pass an important plastic reduction ordinance it had previously rejected. After a concerted campaign, an ordinance prohibiting the distribution of single-use plastic bags and polystyrene, barring plastic straws except upon request, and imposing a 10-cent mandatory fee for paper bags passed and was enacted on July 10, 2023, joining Upper Moreland with 14 other townships in Montgomery County with active bag bans.
It was a wonderful win that’s lending inspiration to over twenty other nearby towns that are working on such bans. According to Munley, pushback against the new ordinance has been minimal. Even while she and others pressed for it, one of the chief objections was that the legislation was too small. The ban, argued naysayers, should be happening on the state level, not the municipal one. Why, then, was it so long in coming? And why are similar laws so difficult to pass?
Munley has some thoughts. When she started her work, she found that others in her town “had tried to get our board of commissioners to pass a ban prior to the pandemic, but nothing had materialized and they felt defeated by the lack of progress.” But Munley, who had recently taken Judith Enck’s course on plastic pollution and also trained with the Beyond Plastics Volunteer Speakers’ Bureau, had fresh energy.
Though she knew little about what she would need, some research quickly unearthed a local Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) who had a history of engagement on the issue. She also found a wider network, a coalition of EAC members from towns all over the county who would shortly form the PA Single-Use Plastics Coalition. The group combined forces. They set up a Google drive to concentrate resources in one place, sharing everything from FAQ’s, fact sheets, sample ordinances passed locally, surveys, to information showing where each EAC was in the process, what challenges they were having and effective solutions. “I ended up bridging the gap between our EAC and the coalition,” notes Munley.
It was an excellent position. Munley’s allies in Upper Moreland already knew that the most important pressure point for passing the ban was the town Board of Commissioners, and they knew who was in support and who was opposed. On Earth Day, the group created pressure by assembling a table on plastic pollution at the local fair and inviting state and federal representatives to attend. When PA House Representative Nancy Guenst and US House Representative Madeline Dean showed up, Munley also made a point of speaking to a local Commissioner who was not supportive of the ban. Standing among the blue and green fliers advocating a healthier planet, he agreed to give her 10 minutes at the next board meeting to make the case against plastic.
“Prior to my experience with Beyond Plastics I would have thought this effort/outcome was too small -- not making an impact on such a massive global issue,” remarks Munley. “But I’ve come to understand we need these small local wins to create change on a state and federal level.”
Ahead of the meeting she created a powerpoint, joining her slides for the Speaker’s Bureau with pointers from other townships. A quote from the local landfill about the extra taxpayer dollars needed to manage all the single use plastic waste landed nicely. Attention to the presence of a naval base in Upper Moreland and the health impacts of PFAS/PFOA drew strong attention from the Commission. After the presentation, the township put a message in the monthly newsletter asking for public feedback. Munley and other members of the EAC reached out to locals to encourage them to send an email of support. Two months later when the ban came to a vote, they were present for its passage.
“How little I knew about my township governance and what a difference one person can make!” remarks Munley. “The EAC had laid the groundwork years prior and felt frustrated by the lack of results – and determined it wasn’t worth spending more time on. It took one person to partner with them and use a variety of resources to help get it over the finish line.”
The win was significant. More than twenty other towns in Montgomery County are considering bag bans of their own, and every new success adds to their momentum. The end goal in PA will be a state-wide ban, though Munley now believes that more municipal organizing will be needed. “If we are able to mobilize across the state on a local level, we will be in a better position to make it happen,” she notes. Her appetite for the work, however, has been whetted. “[I am ready to do] more!” she says. “I’d like to see how we can get more townships on board across Pennsylvania and other states.