Chicago uses some 3 billion polyethylene bags every year. Progressive 1st Ward Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno wants to decrease that number significantly. Moreno introduced a proposal earlier this month to prohibit plastic bags at retailers larger than 5,000 square feet. The legislation would put the city in company with San Francisco—which banned plastic bags in 2007 and reduced consumption to a trickle of 3 million a year. Besides plastic grocery bags handed out by the likes of Jewel, it also would forbid all plastic carryout bags, but not the bags on rolls in the produce aisle.
If the proposed ordinance passes, does this mean environmental progress or more unneeded guidance from the nanny state? We spoke with Moreno and Tanya Triche, senior counsel at Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which strongly opposes the bill.
A bag ban is like a tax.
“Retailers believe that this is really a tax on the retail community, and that’s because when you ban plastic bags, it forces retailers to purchase more paper bags. Paper bags on average cost about 10 cents per bag, and plastic bags cost 2 to 3 cents.”
An exemption for biodegradable or compostable bags doesn’t help.
“Those bags are more expensive. Compostable bags are only good if you have somewhere to compost them. I don’t believe we have many facilities where you can send your bags for composting. Biodegradable bags do not biodegrade in landfills; they need certain conditions to biodegrade.”
People tend to reuse plastic bags.
“If they have pets, for diaper disposal, for the smaller trash cans around the home.”
The city already has a bag-recycling mandate that’s catching on.
“People are starting to understand the program is there and are starting to bring their bags back. [Chicago retailers recycled or reused 1.2 million pounds of plastic bags in 2010.] Which is great, because those bags are used to create other green industries, such as flooring and decking. Recycling is the way to go: It feeds green industry and gives people a choice and a responsible way to dispose of the bags.”
Big retailers can handle a bag ban.
“ALDI and Trader Joe’s don’t use plastic bags, Whole Foods doesn’t. The industry has already proven that they can be profitable without the use of these.”
Plastic bags are on the way out; they just need a nudge.
“When is the last time anyone saw a Big Mac Styrofoam container? The industry and the government got together and got rid of that. In a couple years, we’re going to look back and say, ‘Gosh I can’t believe we used those petroleum-based bags that do so much harm to our environment.’ ”
A ban would stimulate a green market.
“[If] the big boxes can’t buy [polyethylene] bags, they’re going to have to buy something. The industry is going to gravitate to the soy-based, corn-based biodegradable, recyclable bags. If the whole industry, 3 billion bags, starts buying those, the price will come down and the little guys can buy them. Right now, they’re exempt.”
A ban will save the city millions.
“It saves city taxpayers dollars because we don’t have to clean these bags out of our sewers, out of our trees, our parks, our empty lots. You talk to any sewer tech, anytime they go to clean the sewer out, they’re pulling out all these bags.”