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Chicago Plastic Bag Ban Starts Next Week, What’s In Store?

PlasticBag1The days of the thin plastic shopping bag in Chicago are numbered; on Aug. 1, the City of Chicago’s partial plastic bag ban will go into effect and large stores, defined as a store with a floor area greater than 10,000 square feet, will be banned from giving non-reusable plastic bags to shoppers at the point of sale.

The ordinance, which originally passed on April 29, 2014, garnered overwhelming support from the Chicago City Council, which voted 36-10 in favor of the partial ban on plastic bags. Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st), the ordinance’s lead sponsor, said the ban was in the best interests of both the environment and the economy, DNAinfo Chicago originally reported last year.

Supporters of the ordinance estimate that 3.7 million plastic bags are used citywide daily and that between 3 and 5 percent of them become litter and end up in a river or lake, getting stuck in drains and causing flooding, or clogging landfills.

While the ban will impact large retailers beginning Aug. 1, smaller chain stores and franchises will have until August 2016 to comply. The ordinance does not apply to any dine-in or take-out restaurants, nor does it affect stores that are not chain establishments, which the ordinance describes as three or more stores having common ownership, or any store that is part of a franchise. Fines run between $300 and $500 each day the ordinance is violated.

Many Chicagoland stores are developing their plans to comply with the new ordinance. “Mariano’s will be introducing an extensive reusable bag program closer to August,” said James Hyland of VP Investor Relations, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs at Mariano’s. “We will not charge someone who forgets to bring a reusable bag and opts for paper. We also currently give a $.05 credit to customers who shop with a reusable bag.”

Not all plastic bags will be banned, however, even from large stores that are subject to the ordinance. Plastic bags that are at least 2.25 mm thick can fit the ordinance’s definition of a reusable bag as long as the bags have a minimum of 125 lifetime uses, are machine washable or are made of a material that can easily be cleaned or disinfected, are a minimum volume of 15 liters and do not contain heavy metals such as lead or cadmium in toxic amounts. The bags must also be clearly labeled with the name of the manufacturer, the country where the bag was manufactured, a statement that the bag does not contain heavy metals and the percentage of post-consumer recycled material that was used.

Some environmental organizations and other groups that advocate for a shift away from disposables and toward reusables have concerns about the thicker plastic bags being exempted from the plastic ban.

“These thicker plastic bags cost more, and the cost will simply be passed on to consumers in indirect hidden price hikes rather than a direct fee for the bag … But the worst thing about not charging an upfront fee for all bags is that shoppers are tricked into thinking they’re ‘free,’ and won’t reuse them,” said Jordan Parker, founder and Director of Bring Your Bag Chicago, an advocacy organization dedicated to encouraging shoppers to carry home their merchandise in reusable bags. “An ordinance like this is a lose-lose for consumers and the environment: it will result in more plastic ending up in our landfills and environment, at a higher cost to consumers.”

Bring Your Bag Chicago claims that a more effective bag ordinance imposes a mandatory, modest fee for all store-provided carryout bags at checkout. Data on bag ordinances in effect shows that imposing such a fee does a better job of encouraging shoppers to bring their own reusable bags than an offer of a 5- to 10-cent credit per reusable bag the shopper brings.

“No bags should be given away for ‘free,'” Parker said. “Even a nominal charge acts as an incentive for consumers to switch to reusables.”


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