Will Chicago Become Next City to Implement a Plastic Bag Ban?

Windy City Edging Closer to Bag Ban

Will

Windy City Edging Closer to Ban

Chicago has had an ongoing discussion about disposable plastic bags for quite a while now. It all started back in October of 2011 when a plastic bag ban was suggested. The State of Illinois made headlines last summer when their Governor attempted to pass radical pro plastic bag legislation in response to the suggested ban. After a lot of hard work, the proposal the Governor had supported did not pass, and while nothing is final, it looks like Chicago is closer than ever to banning disposable plastic bags throughout the city.

Interesting Backstory

In 2012 the Illinois legislators attempted to pass legislation that would have made it illegal for local governments within the state to ban disposable plastic bags. The fine print of this legislation called for additional recycling efforts with the goal of dramatically increasing the amount of plastic bags recycled. Under the proposal plastic bag manufacturers would have to register with the state, pay fees, set up bag collection and recycling programs and keep the state abreast of the results of their efforts.

Manufacturers would also have to print their name on all of the bags they produce, so the origin of stray bags could be identified. This measure was largely supported by the plastic bag industry. While increased recycling is a noble cause and it seems very fitting to make the plastic bag manufacturers foot the bill for a campaign calling for more recycling, the notion of not allowing municipalities to pass laws regulating plastic bags was frightening.

A budding activist, 12-year-old Abby Goldberg “Activist Abby”, started an online petition urging the governor to not sign the legislation. Goldberg was rightfully concerned that if this legislation were passed there would be no recourse against the plastic bag litter that was destroying the beauty and charm of her Grayslake, Illinois hometown on the outskirts of Chicago. Governor Pat Quinn ultimately did not sign the legislation that would have banned cities and towns from passing bag bans.

Proposal to Ban Bags Gains Momentum in Windy City

Alderman Joe Moreno is backing the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance that calls to ban single use plastic bags in stores larger than 5,000 sq. ft. The size requirement is intended to protect smaller stores from being impacted by the bag ban and means only larger grocery stores would have to comply.

The measure also calls on stores to offer biodegradable bags and to sell reusable shopping bags. Moreno cites a laundry list of reasons why single use plastic bags have no place in Chicago. It is estimated that 3.7 million plastic bags are used daily in Chicago, and 3 - 5 percent of these bags become litter - that’s roughly 185,000 plastic bags each and every day that become litter. This is a staggering amount.

Bag Litter is Destroying City and Surrounding Areas

Plastic bag litter is an eye sore that makes areas look rundown, discourages tourism, decreases property values and ends up costing tax dollars to cleanup. Unfortunately these are the less severe drawbacks of plastic bag litter. Plastic bags can clog drainage systems and compromise the integrity of these systems, resulting in flooding which can put people’s homes and business in danger and can incur hefty clean up bills and insurance claims. It’s upsetting to see money and resources go to cleanup efforts when the problem, the plastic bag litter, is avoidable.

Plastic bag litter is also a major problem in the Great Lakes system. The bags are a nuisance for recreational boaters since the bags can become stuck in props and cause damage, as well as a hassle for the cruise lines that cater to tourists and the major shipping lines that use the Great Lakes to transport goods to and from the mid-west.

Plastic bags are also an environmental hazard because they pose a risk to animals. Both land and water animals can mistakenly eat the bags or become stuck in stray plastic bags and death typically results.

Plastic bag litter is an eye sore

Plastic

Opposition Targets Ban

Opponents of Ald. Moreno’s Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance claim this measure would cause grocery stores to raise their prices in order to account for increased use of paper bags. Whenever a disposable plastic bag ban is proposed the argument levied against it is always that shoppers will replace their plastic bag habit with paper bags. This launches into a discussion about how paper bags aren’t really that great for the environment because they are manufactured from paper.

The info usually left out of this argument is that paper bags can vary greatly in their eco qualities. Paper bags made from virgin fiber are not very eco, whereas paper bags made from recycled post-consumer waste have a significantly more environmentally friendly construction. It is also worth noting that paper bags have a very high recycling rate and even if paper bags are carted off to a landfill they will safely breakdown.

Many bag bans (take a look HERE for the latest on bag bans worldwide) will regulate paper bags to a degree, too. It is fairly common for a plastic bag ban to mandate paper bags must be made from a certain percentage of recycled content and/or there must be text printed on the bags indicating that they can and should be recycled after they have fulfilled their usefulness.

Regardless, the argument that shoppers will just switch to paper bags when plastic is banned never really pans out to the extent anticipated. There might be a spike in paper bag use immediately following the implementation of a plastic bag ban, but paper bags don’t offer the durability shoppers need. They do not hold up if wet and the lack of handles make them less convenient to carry. While paper bags do cost more than plastic bags, the money stores save by not purchasing plastic bags can be directed to the purchase of additional paper bags and helps offset this cost.

There is usually a period of adjustment, but shoppers are resilient and they take to bag bans. Reusable shopping bags typically fill the void left by disposable plastic bags and it takes a little bit of time for shoppers to accumulate a collection of reusable shopping bags and to get into the habit of bringing their bags when they shop, but it works out and a lot of people actually prefer their reusable bags once they get used to them.

Arguments against Reusable Shopping Bags

Critics of disposable plastic bag bans will typically set their sights on reusable grocery bags. They claim reusable bags are a breeding ground for bacteria and they cause illness. Many of these critics will also cite a study that was done on the topic conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University.

It’s worth noting that the study was partially funded by the American Chemistry Council, an organization that has been a vocal opponent of plastic bag bans, and the sample size was extremely small which from a scientific standpoint made the researchers unable to draw an accurate conclusion - although they didn’t let that stop them from publishing their so-called results or rather agenda.

Caring for Reusable Shopping Bags

Reusable shopping bags need to be cleaned because they come into contact with food. So just like everything else that comes into contact with food, like plates and cookware, they need to be washed. Since reusable shopping bags come in a variety of materials the washing instructions run the gamut.

When in doubt fill a sink with warm soapy water, submerge your reusable bags one at a time and swirl them around the sink several times. Make sure to rinse the bags thoroughly and let them air dry. It requires very little time and effort but this simple step is all that’s necessary to prevent the growth and spread of bacteria.

Establishing a routine and washing reusable shopping bags is part of the process of making the switch, but in the end this small chore is completely worth all of the environmental benefits gained by doing away with disposable plastic bags and using reusable grocery bags.

What the Future Holds for Plastic Bag Ban in Chicago

The City Council Committee on Health and Environmental Protection heard testimony recently on Chicago’s proposed Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance. While no vote took place there was a lot of positive discussion and it was evident there is a great deal of support for such a ban. This has been a long process that at times was just plain dicey, so it’s really nice to see a productive dialog on the topic of banning disposable plastic bags in the Windy City.

Efforts in Chicago have been renewed by the recent passage of a plastic bag ban in Los Angeles. The bag ban in LA proved that it can be done - a major city can pass a single use plastic bag ban. Next steps have not been set regarding Chicago’s Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance, but we for one are anxiously keeping an eye on Chicago and we cannot wait until we can give them a green pin on our bag ban map.

Until then, check out the cities worldwide that have gone reusable on our interactive bag ban map HERE and if you are a business, please stick around on our site and check out all of the ways we can help you go green.

References
Photos

Correction made 8-12-13: It was not the Governor that attempted to pass legislation in 2012 but legislators instead.  Thank you Activist Abby for the correction

3 thoughts on “Will Chicago Become Next City to Implement a Plastic Bag Ban?”

  • Peter Burgess

    There are many initiatives to improve the metrics associated with CSR, sustainability, carbon, and so forth. But in my opinion, the dominance of profits, stock prices and GDP growth in the conversation really goes unchallenged.

    One of the important initiatives is the Triple Bottom Line (TBL), but TBL is only about people, profit and planet and still the metrics have a perspective that it totally organization centric.

    For some time I have advocated for metrics that are about impact on people, place and planet as well as about profit and the organization. This was a step in the right direction. The concept is to get a focus on impact on place as well as profit (for the organization).

    But it has become clear that another dimension of metrics is also needed. It is product. Major corporations that have their name on products often do little more than design the product and market the product and as such they are 'clean and green', but the supply chain that produces the product may be pretty awful in terms of employee wages, workplace conditions, toxic pollution, and so on.

    And the post use part of the product life cycle is another matter again. The major corporation profits from the product, but what happens in the post use phase is of no concern because they can wash their hands of it.

    If product is included in the metrics framework, then the responsible marketing organizations can start to be held to account. The technology to provide 'reviews' on any number of products has already been developed. Now we need to get these reviews to include information about the impact (valudestruction) associated with these products in manufacturing, transportation and post use disposal.

    Peter Burgess TrueValueMetrics

    Reply
  • Peter Burgess

    There are many initiatives to improve the metrics associated with CSR, sustainability, carbon, and so forth. But in my opinion, the dominance of profits, stock prices and GDP growth in the conversation really goes unchallenged.

    One of the important initiatives is the Triple Bottom Line (TBL), but TBL is only about people, profit and planet and still the metrics have a perspective that it totally organization centric.

    For some time I have advocated for metrics that are about impact on people, place and planet as well as about profit and the organization. This was a step in the right direction. The concept is to get a focus on impact on place as well as profit (for the organization).

    But it has become clear that another dimension of metrics is also needed. It is product. Major corporations that have their name on products often do little more than design the product and market the product and as such they are 'clean and green', but the supply chain that produces the product may be pretty awful in terms of employee wages, workplace conditions, toxic pollution, and so on.

    And the post use part of the product life cycle is another matter again. The major corporation profits from the product, but what happens in the post use phase is of no concern because they can wash their hands of it.

    If product is included in the metrics framework, then the responsible marketing organizations can start to be held to account. The technology to provide 'reviews' on any number of products has already been developed. Now we need to get these reviews to include information about the impact (valudestruction) associated with these products in manufacturing, transportation and post use disposal.

    Peter Burgess TrueValueMetrics

    Reply
    • admin

      Hi Peter and thanks very much for the very well stated and thoughtful comment. We are working hard to make our supply chain clean and employee centric. It is hard to stick your neck out there and try as many times we worry we will be bashed for not doing enough. We appreciate a collaborative approach to solving these problems that you present. Would be happy to consider a guest post from you on this subject if you would be open to it. - Shane

      Reply

Leave a Reply