Chicago approves plastic bag ban

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Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno

“Paper or plastic?” will no longer be a choice in Chicago, starting next year.

As expected, at an April 30 city council meeting, Chicago aldermen voted 36-10 to ban plastic bags at chain and franchise stores. The ban goes into effect for large retailers in August 2015 and one year later for shops smaller than 10,000 square feet. Family-owned stores and restaurants will not be affected.

All stores will have to provide or sell reusable bags, recyclable paper bags or compostable plastic bags and have the option of charging for the disposable bags.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been supportive of the ban once small, family-owned businesses were exempted, as part of his larger plans to improve Chicago’s waste management and recycling systems.

Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno spent more than two years spearheading the anti-bag effort in Chicago and has called single-use plastic bags “a relic of yesterday’s economy,” insisting that no jobs or business will be lost because of the ban.

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

“The City Council’s decision to pass a partial ban on multi-use, recyclable plastic bags is misinformed and directly contradicts Chicago’s economic development efforts, essentially creating a new tax for shoppers,” said APBA Executive Director Lee Califf. “Ald. Joe Moreno, who authored the ban, admitted today in his Chicago Tribune op-ed that cost to consumer was left out of the equation.

“If retailers want to pass the cost on to consumers, they are welcome to do so,” he wrote.”

In his Tribune opinion piece, Moreno also called the final version of the ordinance imperfect and “a noble compromise, which gives us 90 percent of what we set out to achieve,” because it does not include a fee.

Environmentalist and executive director of Bring Your Bag Chicago, Jean Jordan, lambasted the bag ordinance in her own Tribune op-ed the day before the vote, saying that without a fee, the effort “masquerades as a piece of environmental legislation” that will not help stop litter or lower cleanup costs.

“The problem with the absence of a fee is that consumers aren’t encouraged to change their behavior: They will choose the ‘free’ bag, while retailers embed the costs of those bags in their product prices. A small fee is not punitive. It’s an educational tool that triggers consumer awareness of disposable bag waste,” she wrote.

Jordan also noted truths the plastics industry already knows: that paper bags have a higher carbon dioxide footprint than plastic ones and compostable bags “are the worst of both worlds” if they don’t actually make it to a proper industrial composting facility.

For plastics industry groups, for whom concern about manufacturing jobs continue to mount as bag ban ordinances pile up around the country, the answer is simple: recycling programs.

“Comprehensive plastic bag recycling education would have been the better option for Chicago’s environment and would have preserved consumers’ freedom of choice. We are exploring all options to reverse this terrible decision,” APBA’s Califf said in an April 30 news release.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance that could destroy plastics manufacturing jobs in Chicago and other areas across the country that recycle these valuable products,” said SPI President and CEO William Carteaux.

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