Preserving the Environment

Will Chicago Be the Next City to Outlaw Plastic Bags?

March 15, 2014
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Will Chicago Be the Next City to Outlaw Plastic Bags?
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Lawmakers in the Windy City work to ban this environmental hazard.

Is Chicago the next San Francisco? Alderman Joe “Proco” Moreno, sponsor of a proposal that would prohibit retailers from handing out plastic bags, thinks so.

He says that the city council has the 26 required votes to rid the Windy City of this common pollutant. “I’m very confident we have the votes,” Moreno told the Chicago Sun-Times. “We’ve been kicking this around for years. I’m not a very patient guy, but I’ve been patient on this. It’s time to move.”

Last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel derailed a previous version of the bill, which would have forbidden retailers with more than 5,000 square feet of floor space from supplying customers with plastic bags. The new bill, co-sponsored by Ald. Chairman George Cardenas, is even stricter — it includes the small vendors who were originally excluded from the ordinance. “We were letting smaller stores off the hook,” Moreno said. “But some aldermen were concerned. They said, ‘All I have is small stores in my ward. If you don’t cover them, my ward is still gonna look like crap with bags all over the place.’”

MORE: Now Banned in Hawaii: Plastic Bags

To support these smaller businesses during the transition of turning Chicago into a plastic-bag free zone, Cardenas says that the council is considering up to a three-year exemption period to allow them to get acclimated. As for the Mayor’s office, while Emanuel himself has yet to respond, his office has released a statement saying, “We have not yet reviewed this proposed ordinance, but share Ald. Moreno’s commitment to ensuring a cleaner Chicago. We look forward to seeing a final ordinance after the alderman works with his colleagues, community leaders and the business community.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association claimed that the plastic bag ban would effectively levy a “tax on retailers,” since paper bags cost three times as much. The group’s vice president, Tanya Triche, says that in order for the ban to work, the city council would have to allow a 10-cent tax on paper bags, as well, which would persuade shoppers to bring their own bags. Without it, they would risk losing jobs in the industry. But for Cardenas, a 10-cent charge isn’t an option. “That’s a tax. I don’t want to tax anything right now,” he said.

MORE: These Women Are Doing Something Amazing With Simple Plastic Bags

Moreno estimates that 3.7 million plastic bags are used citywide daily — 3 to 5 percent of which become litter. These bags not only are present on streets and in trees and parks, but also get stuck in drains, causing flooding, clog landfills, jam recycling plants, and harm animals. Los Angeles and San Francisco have both banned plastic bags, and the state of California is currently pushing for a statewide ban. In December, Hawaii became the first U.S. state to ban the bag, but judging by how much the idea is growing in popularity — and considering that nearly 100 billion plastic bags are used in the U.S. every year — we’re guessing it won’t be the last.

ALSO: What Would a City With No Plastic Bags Look Like?

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