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What you need to know about Chicago's plastic bag ban

Written by
Chris Bourg

Beginning August 1, a new law will take effect in Chicago that bans most retailers from offering their customers the option to carry out their goods in traditional plastic bags. The new law aims to cut down on the negative impacts of pollution caused by common improper disposal of these bags. This ban follows in the footsteps of other big cities that have enacted similar laws, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Here are some things you need to know about the ban before it starts next month, as well as some ways for you to prepare for it:

What stores will it affect?

Any store with a floor area of more than 10,000 square feet that is part of a "chain store organization," which is defined as three or more stores having common ownership, or any store that is part of a franchise. So basically, any big-box retail chain like Jewel, Kohl's, Best Buy, etc. Stores that do not fall within those categories, such as mom-and-pop shops and small convenience stores, as well as restaurants, do not have to adhere to the plastic bag ban.

Will stores still offer paper bags?

Yes, the law doesn't affect the distribution of paper shopping bags. But those are kind of annoying to carry around, and depending on what store you go to, they might not be very durable. And environmentally speaking (since that's the spirit of this law), paper bags can be just as harmful as plastic bags when you factor in the energy costs and production processes of plastic bags.

What can I do to prepare?

If you want to conform with the spirit of this new ordinance, acquire some reusable bags for yourself and, more importantly, get in a routine of actually using them. Keep some in your car, near your work desk or hanging somewhere visible in your home so you're constantly reminded to bring them to the store when you go shopping.

I will definitely forget to bring those bags to the store with me. What then?

Most retailers plan to offer, at no extra charge to consumers, reusable plastic bags that are thicker than the current ones, can hold up to 22 pounds and can be reused 125 times.

Wait, seriously? Retailers' solution to the ban on standard plastic bags is to offer customers bigger, thicker plastic bags?

Yes. The ordinance allows retailers to offer reusable plastic bags, under the condition that these bags are at least 2.25 millimeters thick, can hold at least 22 pounds and can be reused 125 times. Despite the fact that this goes completely against the intentions of city lawmakers to ban plastic bags in Chicago, this is still totally allowable under the ordinance.

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