Chicago Ban on Plastic Bags – August 2015

We see them strewn on the sides of streets, in parks, in forest preserves and just about everywhere else — plastic bags! They’ve become more of an annoyance instead of a convenience.

After last month’s statewide ban of single-use plastic bags in California, Chicago is set to join California and other major US cities Seattle and Austin in this cause in August 2015. Chain stores which are defined as a group of three or more stores that have the same owner or franchise stores of more than 10,000 square feet, will no longer be allowed to offer plastic bags.

The proposal, which was supported by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, was passed in April 2014 by a vote of 36-10.  Those retailers not compliant to the new law will face fines between $300-$500.

According to a April 30, 2014 Chicago Tribune article, “Environmental advocates said the ban would reduce the number of reusable-bagbags littering parkways, fluttering in trees, bloating landfills and clogging drains. But store owners and plastic bag manufacturers said the paper bags likely to replace plastic pose cause their own share of environmental woes and, because they cost more, will lead to higher prices at city stores.”

Some not-so-fun facts about plastic bags from

  • Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. Consider China, a country of 1.3 billion, which consumes 3 billion plastic bags daily, according to China Trade News.
  •  About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
  • A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
  • The U.S. goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags. This costs retailers about $4 billion a year.
  • Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008)
  • Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
  • It is estimated that worldwide plastic bag consumption falls between 500 billion and 1 trillion bags annually. That breaks down to almost 1 million every minute.
  •  In good circumstances, high-density polyethylene will take more than 20 years to degrade. In less ideal circumstances (land fills or as general refuse), a bag will take more than 1,000 years to degrade.
  • Every square mile of the ocean has about 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it. (UN, 2006)
  • Ten percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean. 70% of which finds its way to the ocean floor, where it will likely never degrade. (UN, 2006)

Of course, not everyone is for this citywide ban, citing economic reasons.

Tanya Triche, vice president and general counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said in a statement reported by ABC Chicago. “Driving up expenses for retailers and forcing customers to pay more at the store while not helping the environment flies in the face of the city’s goal to make Chicago one of the nation’s greenest cities and support companies that have invested significantly in Chicago’s neighborhoods.”

Will this ban help one of the greenest cities in the nation be even greener? We still have about 10 months to see what will happen, but Chicagoans can start getting into greener habits in preparation for this ban. Many major chain stores offer reusable bags for sale for as low as 99 cents. There are many Web sites out there for reusable bags and, sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can get these bags for free. In my opinion, reusable bags are better than plastic and even paper too because many times these bags are made from recycled material, they hold more items and can be easily cleaned and reused.





Say Goodbye to Plastic Bags

With the recent crisis in the Gulf, people are finally paying attention to the evils of oil and realizing we need to reduce our dependence upon the substance. According to Wikipedia, “Plastic bags are often made from polyethylene, which consists of long chains of ethylene monomers. Ethylene is derived from natural gas and petroleum.” So basically those bags you grab for just one item — those bags are made of oil. But, you can reuse those plastic bags. Many grocery stores have bins where you can deposit these bags.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that each ton of plastic bags saves an energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil. Heavy duty bags can be reused many times for transporting items. Lighter weight bags can be reused as bin bags or to pick up pet feces.

Littering is also a problem.How many times have we driven down the highway and have seen bags tossed at the side of the road? This is unsightly.

The best alternative to plastic bags is reusable bags, or, if you are making a small purchase, no bag. Do you really need a bag for that paperback book or bottle of aspirin? Cut down on plastic and packaging. Reusable bags are the “in” thing nowadays — just about every store sells their own “be green” bags — go into a Walgreens or Target and there will be bags at the checkout line for you to purchase. Many of these bags are constructed of a durable canvas or other heavy material and are much sturdier than plastic anyway. Some reusable bags are made of recycled plastic or other materials. For those of you who aren’t too keen on toting around a bag with the Target logo, there are plenty of “designer” bags out there to choose from.

Additionally, we need to cut down on anything plastic — those plastic water bottles, turn to aluminum instead. Water is meant to be free! Just fill up your reusable water bottle from the drinking fountain. Trust me, I’m sure the water will taste just as good or better. Plastic sandwich bags — wash them out and reuse them, or there are recycled plastic bags you can purchase. Or better yet, use a sandwich container or wax paper to wrap your sandwich.

Every little step counts toward reducing our plastic impact.