Results show a significant decrease in plastic bag usage in the city after the ban was implemented 

PHILADELPHIA – Mayor Jim Kenney released today Philadelphia’s Plastic Bag Ban and Changes in Bag Usage in the City, a new efficacy study conducted by Daniel Banko-Ferran, a PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, with the support of Dr. Syon Bhanot, a professor at Swarthmore College, and in partnership with the Mayor’s Office. The study demonstrates that in the year since the City began enforcement of the single-use plastic bag ordinance, there has been a measurable change in shopper behavior as well as a decrease in plastic bag usage in the city after the ban was implemented. The following additional impacts were found:

  • Prior to the ban, 64 percent of shoppers used at least one plastic bag while grocery shopping at stores in the study. After the ban was fully implemented, this percentage dropped to near zero.
  • There was an increase in the number of shoppers using paper bags, reusable bags, or choosing not to use a bag at all.
  • The proportion of consumers using a reusable bag almost doubled from 22 percent to 42 percent.
  • The study estimates that the ban prevented over 200 million disposable plastic bags from being distributed in the city in its first year.

According to the study, adoption took time to accelerate, but the ban has had sustained effects.

The authors cite, “It took three months for plastic bag usage to decrease in the city and remained steady near zero for the remainder of the study. The likelihood of using reusable bags gradually increased over the first year of the ban’s implementation. Paper bag usage peaked six months after the ban was implemented before receding slightly.” This sustained shift in consumption patterns at sample stores shows how after an adjustment period, new policies can encourage long term changes in consumer behavior with substantial impacts.

“We know that keeping our beautiful city clean and clear of trash is key for the health and wellbeing of all Philadelphians. This success of the Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance shows how the City, together with local business and consumers, can help decrease plastic bag usage in the city – a major pollutant of our streets and waterways,” said Mayor Kenney. “The City will continue to identify policies and initiatives that can improve quality of life for residents without hurting local businesses.”

“I am pleased to see the positive impact the ban has had on the environment and the cleanliness of our city in just one year,” said Councilmember Mark Squilla. “The residents of our city have become accustomed to reusable bags. We will continue to study the effects of the legislation to further improve outcomes.”

In 2021, the City began enforcing its plastic bag ban ordinance to reduce single-use plastic waste and improve environmental quality and cleanliness across Philadelphia. Under the ordinance, which was proposed and enforced in a collaborative effort by the Office of Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability (OTIS), Department of Commerce, Office of Sustainability (OOS), Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I), and the Office of the Mayor. Under the ban, retail establishments can no longer provide single-use plastic bags or paper bags that don’t meet specific requirements. Businesses can however provide reusable bags or recycled content paper bags for customers.

View the Philadelphia Plastic Bag Ban and Changes in Bag Usage in the City study here.