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Chicago City Council committee approves plastic bag ban

By: Gayle S. Putrich

April 24, 2014

Chicago is poised to become the next major U.S. city to enact a ban on single-use plastic bags after a City Council committee vote April 24.

The Health and Environmental Protection Committee voted to approve an ordinance that would ban bags from most retailers by the summer of 2015

The matter now goes to the full council for consideration at its April 30 meeting, where it is expected to be approved.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel reiterated his support for the renegotiated version of the ban, which would now affect chain and franchise stores but not independent stores and restaurants. Beginning in August 2015 chain stores — defined as a group of three or more locations with the same owner—and franchise stores of more than 10,000 square feet. Smaller chains and franchises would have another year to phase out the bags.

Independent stores and restaurants would be exempt. All stores would have to provide or sell reusable bags, recyclable paper bags or compostable plastic bags and have the option of charging for the disposable bags.

Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno has spent more than two years spearheading the anti-bag effort in Chicago.

"Today for Chicago is a historic day in terms of our environment and moving into a new economy," Moreno told the Chicago Sun-Times. "These bags are a relic of yesterday's economy. There is no evidence—none, zero—from any country, state or city that has enacted similar bans of any job loss of any business loss."

American Progressive Bag Alliance disagrees, pointing out that the U.S. plastic bag manufacturing and recycling business employs 30,800 across the country, including 3,000 in Illinois.

Chairman Lee Califf said stepping up recycling programs would be better than a ban for the city, businesses and consumers.

"The decision to bring a proposed plastic bag ban to a full council vote is a bad move for Chicago, placing undue burden on big box retailers and grocers and the families that shop in these stores," Califf said. "Comprehensive plastic bag recycling education would better benefit Chicago and preserve consumer choice. We will continue to join forces with affected retailers, Chicago residents and those whose jobs are on the line, to convince the City Council that this policy is counterproductive to Chicago's future."

Chicago is only the most recent municipality to hop on the bag ban bandwagon. Starting with San Francisco in 2007, more than 70 California cities and counties have since enacted their own patchwork of bag taxes, fees and bans and the state is still vying for the title of first to enact a statewide plastic bag policy.

In January, California state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) reintroduced his bag ban bill, this time with the blessing of two of the senators who helped bury the measure in 2013 — enticed by $2 million in grant money to help offset potential job losses at California plastic bag factories.

On the other coast, Florida's attempt to beat California to the punch failed in April when a bill that would have allowed local governments to prohibit stores from offering plastic bags and allow stores to charge shoppers 10 cents for paper bags was pulled due to concerns from legislators over essentially enacting a new tax.

New York City, with the possibility of a polystyrene foam ban still looming, may also take a second crack at imposing a 10-cent fee on plastic bags later this year with a measure introduced April 19 by Manhattan Councilwoman Margaret Chin.