Three students in Pitt gear hold reusable grocery bags on their shoulders
Features & Articles

Get ready for Pittsburgh’s single-use plastic ban

  • Our City/Our Campus
  • Sustainability

Starting Oct. 14, plastic bags will no longer be available at stores in the City of Pittsburgh. For many in the Pitt community, however, the move away from single-use plastic bags is nothing new.

 The University has been combating single-use plastics for almost a decade through efforts such as BYO[Bag]. Launched in 2014, the initiative aims to cut back on single-use plastics at markets, take-out orders and the University Stores. Before its launch, Pitt gave out 15,000 single-use plastic bags every week.

Since implementing the BYO[Bag] program, Pitt has seen a 95% reduction in single-use plastic bags, preventing over 2 million from entering circulation that would otherwise end up in a landfill or as litter. In addition, fees from paper and reusable bags have provided more $20,000 for Pitt Green Fund, which has supported projects like the Plant2Plate Student Garden, solar picnic tables, reusable menstrual product distributions and student-focused sustainability workshops.

The University Stores also offer shoppers a variety of reusable bags, including a student-made sustainability design.

[Learn more about the Green Fund]

Why the ban and what to do next

Philadelphia implemented a similar ban in 2021 and tasked Pitt PhD economics student Daniel Banko-Ferran and Swarthmore College’s Syon Bhanot to conduct a study of the ban. Among other insights, the researchers estimated the ban prevented more than 200 million bags from entering circulation in the first year alone.

Throughout the City of Pittsburgh, businesses will stop providing plastic bags at checkout, pick-up and delivery services. Per the ordinance, establishments can offer paper bags for a minimum of $0.10 apiece. Individuals using Human Services programs like SNAP and WIC are exempt from the paper bag fee.

Single-use plastic bags can still be used inside grocery stores for unpackaged food like produce, meats and bakery items. However, for people working to avoid plastic as much as possible, reusable produce bags are always an option — and can be found in various stores, including on campus at Maggie and Stella’s.

Storage and sharing

Bags are only useful if you remember them. Pitt Sustainability suggest you keep your bags somewhere easily accessible, in your bag or backpack, by the front door or in your car trunk. Resist the urge to stuff them all into a single bag — that ends up taking up more space.

Already have your collection of reusable bags at the ready and looking for additional ways to incorporate sustainability into your life? There are various ways you can get involved and a plethora of events to enjoy including Pitt Green Workshops, Green Speakeasy and the Pitt Green Ambassador program.


— Melanie Lippert