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Jade Kolker/MEDILL

Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th Ward) holds up a mattress made out of plastics bags. Sposato opposed the ban and referenced the organization that repurposes plastic bags to make mattresses for homeless people during his comments at the meeting.

Chicago City Council bans plastic bags effective 2015

by Jade Kolker
Apr 30, 2014

Chicago City Council today banned plastic bags from large retail stores. The ordinance, which goes into effect Aug. 1 of next year, exempts dine-in or takeout restaurants and any store not defined as a chain store – three or more stores owned by the same owner – until Aug. 1, 2016.


Ald. George Cardenas (12th Ward), chairman of the Health and Environmental Protection Committee, spoke on behalf of the ordinance and cited statistics from San Francisco’s analyses on plastic bag usage. According to Cardenas, it costs the city 17 cents to handle and discard each bag.

"The time has come for us to act; for us to push an environmental agenda," Cardenas said.

Aldermen who stood to support the ordinance, which passed 36-10, argued that remaining at the status quo would not be acceptable. Ald. John Arena (45th Ward) said, "The recycling effort is another red herring. There are other efforts that we can do, and I believe this is balanced and a good start for the city of Chicago."

However, not everyone agreed with the new legislation. Ald. Leslie Hariston (5th Ward) cited economic reasons for not supporting the ban.

"I'm watching my community go to hell in a hand basket, while communities that are rich in resources are spending time debating plastic bags," Hariston said.

Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th Ward) opposed the ordinance before the vote. "We should not be passing the costs to the businesses and residents of Chicago," Sposato said.

Ald Joe Moreno (1st Ward), who sponsored the ordinance, took issue with opponents.

"A few things have been said that simply aren’t true and keep being repeated. There is no evidence from the state of Hawaii, the country of Ireland, and other cities that enacted similar bans that this hurts businesses. In fact, it’s the opposite," Moreno said.

American Progressive Bag Alliance, an organization that represents the nation's plastic bag manufacturing and recycling sector, said in a statement that passing the partial plastic bag ban "will damage Chicago’s business friendly reputation.” Lee Califf, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, said in a press release, "comprehensive plastic bag recycling education would have been the better option for Chicago's environment and would have preserved consumers’ freedom of choice."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in a press conference after the council meeting, said he thinks banning plastic bags is a step in the right direction for environmental policy. "It's not like what happens today is free," Emanuel said, in reference to the price difference between paper and plastic bags.

Target Corporation, as a chain larger than 10,000 square feet, will be one of the first organizations affected by the ban. "Target encourages guests and communities to reduce their plastic bag use and works with local governments to comply with all regulations. We encourage our guests to bring in their reusable bags by offering a five-cent reusable bag incentive, and we also offer in-store recycling of plastic bags already in the supply chain," a spokeswoman said in an email.

"This is a part of a transition. You can't be a city in a garden and have a set of policies that actually hurt the environment," Emanuel said.


Chicago's motto is Urbs in horto, "city in a garden."