Plastic shopping bag generic

EASTON, Pa. – A green initiative to cut back on plastic bags at stores to reduce litter and pollution in Northampton County was discussed Thursday night, but no action was taken.

At the county's Energy, Environment and Land Use Committee meeting, Committee Chairwoman Tara Zrinski raised the issue — one that has gained traction across the country in the past several years, with several states implementing bans on the use of plastic bags.

Pennsylvania bars municipalities from instituting bag bans until at least July. Philadelphia officials have discussed filing a suit to lift the prohibition, saying the state overstepped its bounds by telling cities and towns not to put limits on single-use plastics.

Zrinski brought to the meeting David Masur of PennEnvironment Inc., a nonprofit group that focuses on environmental policy and action, to make a case for Northampton County to join the potential Philadelphia litigation.

County Executive Lamont McClure, who is a lawyer, said he supports cutting back on pollution but does not believe the county needs to be party to litigation to reap any benefits from it.

Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni agreed that Northampton County does not have to participate in a suit and warned of potential costs. He also pointed out that, as of now, there is nothing to join: "There is no litigation."

Anti-bag legislation could ban some thin plastic bags and add a fee, perhaps 15 cents each at checkout for heavier ones, to encourage people to bring reuseable bags to stores. Bethlehem City Council considered a ban but was also blocked by the state.

Councilman Kerry Myers said grocery stores would pass to consumers any costs from such legislation. Councilmembers Kevin Lott and Ron Heckman said that adding costs and regulations during a pandemic would be a mistake.

"We're trying to keep people from getting evicted from their homes," Lott said, pointing to an urgent pandemic need.

"It's clear we need more information," Zrinski said, wrapping up the discussion after an hour.

The Northampton County Council at large met for its meeting later on Thursday, during which McClure warned that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.

Council also discussed the preservation of parkland and open space.

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