The state of Illinois is on the verge of some groundbreaking legislation regarding disposable plastic bags and as to be expected not everyone is on board with it, but the surprising thing is that most of those opposed to the ban are from the environmentalist camp. The proposal has already been approved by state lawmakers and all that is left to make this proposal an official law is the approval and signature from the governor, Pat Quinn. If this proposal gets the Governors autograph (Quinn has not indicated publicly if he intends to sign or veto the proposal) it will go into effect on July 1, 2013. What sets this measure apart from every other plastic bag ban and the countless taxes and fees levied against these disposable bags is that Illinois is looking to pass a statewide law that would make the plastic bag manufacturers step up efforts to recycle bags.
Plastic bag manufacturers would have to register with the state, pay fees, set up plastic bag collection and recycling programs and report the results back to the state. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will be responsible for managing the program, and will post the recycling plans online for 30 days for public and manufacturer comment and feedback. Manufacturers will also have to file an annual report disclosing the results of their programs beginning in 2014. By 2015 the state would like to see a minimum 12% improvement in the amount of plastic bags recycled.
Failure to abide by the regulations would result in up to a $1,000 fine. As long as the plastic bag manufacturers meet the requirements laid out in this proposal they would be free to continue producing disposable plastic shopping bags. The fine print of this proposal is that no city, town, or county can impose fees or outright ban plastic bags.
Positive Impact of Proposal
There are merits to this proposal. Only a very small percentage of the bags put into circulation are recycled, so this increased effort would address that problem. Plastic bags are a nuisance that continue to pile up in landfills and once they are picked up by the wind their travel destinations are limitless. Between littering neighborhoods, collecting rainwater and serving as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and confusing hungry animals it is clear something needs to be done to ensure plastic bags are properly disposed of. The steps Illinois is taking would most certainly increase the number of plastic bags recycled and it seems fitting to place the responsibility to create recycling plans and educate the public about these plans should lie with the plastic bag manufacturers; they should have to clean up their mess.
A single law that covers the entire state is appealing and would prevent the patchwork of laws that exist in many other states. A shopper would know what the deal is when they walk into a store, unlike in some areas in which stores directly across the street from one another can have different laws based on town lines and the laws on the book in each town. One continuous law will also save business with locations in different jurisdictions from the headache of making sure each store follows the necessary laws.
No matter the size of the business a variety of laws regarding plastic bags can be a hassle; however, it is more of a hassle for small businesses that may not have the resources to train and ensure their entire staff abides by the appropriate regulations. The matter can escalate to a full on migraine for small business that move employees around to different locations.
Plastic Bags Are Not Part of the Solution
For all the good this proposal could do it severely limits the authority of local governments and gives the plastic bag manufacturers a pass to continue polluting the planet. Increased recycling is definitely the way to go, but it is not the only piece of the puzzle. We do need to responsibly dispose of the plastic bags already in existence, but to continue to manufacture disposable plastic bags has the sting of irresponsibility. As long as plastic shopping bags are manufactured they will continue to be a problem, and this law only addresses the immediate problem – not the long term ramifications. Plastic bag production requires the use of fossil fuels, and as a non-renewable resource we need to start being much more picky about how we use our fossil fuels.
Results take time and the proposal is structured to achieve a 12% improvement within 2 years of being enacted. This is ambitious and is by no means an easy goal, but current recycling rates are so low that it would take years and maybe decades to see high recycling rates – years that could be better spent eliminating the problem at its source rather than trying to slowly mitigate the issue. Doing away with plastic bags is key to solving this problem and the logical solution bags created with recycled material. Illinois’ proposal makes no mention of reusable bags, and this flaw is what has so many people opposed to it.
Illinois shoppers can circumvent the law by recycling any disposable plastic bags they have and picking up some bags like the reusable shopping bags from Factory Direct Promos. By breaking free from the disposable bag loop shoppers can stop contributing to the vicious cycle Illinois’ proposal is aiming to perpetuate. Plastic bags have been a faithful companion to many a shopper for several decades now, but they have overstayed their welcome. This proposal falls short in so many ways. The notion of a statewide law that addresses the plastic bag problem is a great idea in theory, but to allow the continued production of plastic bags is just not a good call. Reusable shopping bags are the environmentally friendly and socially responsible way to go. Increased recycling is great and sorely needed, but hopefully the folks of Illinois will pick up some reusable bags, too and make a positive impact on the planet and their communities.