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These bags are a relic of yesterday's economy

by Jade Kolker
Apr 24, 2014


Jade Kolker/MEDILL

Reducing litter is one of Ald. George Cardenas' goals for the plastic bag ban in large retail stores in Chicago.

"Paper or plastic" may be a remnant of Chicago history. The City Council Health and Environment Protection Committee approved a ban that prohibits many retail establishments from providing customers with plastic bags for their purchases.

Aldermen on the committee voted unanimously in favor of the ban Thursday. The ordinance is scheduled to go to the full city council for a vote on April 30. Smaller retail stores and restaurants are exempt from the ban, but retail stores occupying more than 10,000 square feet would be prohibited from giving bags to customers.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th Ward), chairman of the Health and Environmental Protection Committee,  shared photos of plastic bags lining the trees along the expressways before putting the ordinance to a vote. According to Cardenas, it costs more than $3,000 to remove the bags because of the chain of events that occurs every time someone complains about the debris.

"There's a truck, there's a driver, there's a supervisor, and there's fuel. You would think, wow, is it really that costly? It costs not even three cents to manufacture, and it costs us $3,000 to be able to get rid of it."

According to Cardenas, it costs $55 million annually to clear litter in the city. "Today, for Chicago, is a historic day for our environment," said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st Ward). "These bags are a relic of yesterday's economy."

Moreno sponsored the ordinance and said that committee members have been working on this for two years. "There is no evidence – none, zero – from any country, state or city that's enacted similar bans, of any job loss or business loss," Moreno said.  

For the naysayers who think paper bags are just as bad for the environment, Cardenas looks at them as an easier way to be environmentally friendly.

"At least there's a renewable source from trees, from pulp. They can biodegrade, they can break down easier. Plastic bags do not. The cost for the tax payers is really insurmountable,” Cardenas said.

An estimated 3 billion bags are used every year in Chicago, according to Cardenas. Do the math - that's 8.2 million bags a day. "Tax payers are paying for something that shouldn’t be happening," Cardenas said after the vote.