Plastic Bag Ban in Chicago

Chicago Plastic Bag Ban: Keep Chicago Green Photo: Amanda Elliott

It’s a sunny day in Chicago, and I have two bags in my hand. One is paper and the other is plastic. While this is not new, what is new is Chicago’s Bag Ban.

It’s the second week of the plastic bag ban, which began August 1, 2015 in Chicago. While it takes time for ordinances to take effect (see the Chicago recycling ordinance from 1996 that still needs your help to implement by posting my building doesn’t recycle), I expected less plastic and more paper.

Some stores have taken precautions like grocery stores, Jewel Osco and Mariano’s, which have had signs up throughout July notifying customers about the bag ban. A lot of retailers have said nothing.

So, what does this bag ban entail how will this affect your shopping experience?

Why is there a Plastic Bag Ban:

The short answer is you and me. The city feels that we have been improperly disposing plastic bags. This, in turn, leads to  pollution.

Chicago is pulling the Captain America and saving us from ourselves.

If It’s Not Plastic, Is it Paper:

Retailers are offering a few alternatives to align with the plastic bag ban.

One option is to offer recyclable paper bags or compostable bags. Note that most paper bags, such as the ones at Jewel Osco, do not have handles. The ones that Trader Joe’s provides, do. Most retailers are offering recyclable paper bags for free.

Another option is a different version of plastic bags. The ordinance may do away with regular plastic bags, but retailers have the option to replace plastic with plastic. The newer plastic bags are thicker— “at least 2.25 millimeters thick, can hold at least 22 pounds and can be reused 125 times,” according to Time Out Chicago’s Bag Ban article.

Stores are also offering reusable bags for a charge, such as 10 cents.

What Stores are Affected by the Ordinance:

Major retailers with big box stores are affected by this Chicago Ordinance. This includes stores that have more than 10,000 square feet  and are chain stores, meaning they are part of a franchise or they have three or more stores. These include grocery stores, clothing stores like Kohl’s and Macy’s, and other retail shops.

Smaller stores, and mom and pop shops are not affected and continue to hand out plastic bags. Restaurants that offer dine and carry out service are also not affected by this ordinance.

How Does the Chicago Plastic Bag Ban Affect You:

Those who have been reusing plastic bags to bring your lunch, line your trash can, and pick up you dog’s poop will have to find an alternative. For your pooch, Chicago Tribune, just wrote an article about where to find dog bags.

For those who prefer bags with handles, this law will help you plan out your shopping trips. You’ll want to take the reusable plastic bags or other reusable tote bags with you when you go grocery shopping and even when you are shopping for clothes.

Also note that as a consumer, you will not be fined for bringing regular plastic bags into the store and using those. You can also choose to carry items out of the store without a bag. This is actually a great way for businesses to start marketing their brands by handing out reusable bags.

The Effects of Being Trashy:

Before I analyze the plastic bag ban, I want to say that there is a problem. I have grown up swimming in oceans and running in parks. Since coming to Chicago, I can’t swim. I don’t want to kayak on the Chicago River. I was laying in a park and a man from the cleaning crew approached me.

“I wouldn’t lie there, Miss; it’s dirty.” he said.

We are contaminating our world. When we do that, we can’t enjoy it fully. We have to think about the bacteria and disease and refrain from jumping in the water or lying in the park.

Is the Bag Ban a Good Idea:

Chicago is not the first to implement a (partial) bag ban. There is a movement towards reducing waste, and more specifically, plastic bag waste. This week, Hawaii was the first state to establish a statewide plastic bag ban (note that this does not include the more durable, thicker plastic bags), reports Huffington Post.

There are a few things that I find odd about this ordinance.

The first is that stores are making a big deal about it. There are multiple signs and while I don’t know if any establishment has been punished,  everyone seems to be complying.

The second is that I think plastic bags are the one item that people actually consciously recycle. Yes, we can be like my friend who has plastic bags from 3 years ago waiting to be used. But we still save the bags for future use—whether that use is for dirty laundry on a trip, a wet bathing suit, or a trash liner.

The third is that brown paper bags are more difficult to carry home in the city. I think Trader Joe’s should be the example for brown paper bags in the city because their bags have handles. But every time I shop at Trader Joe’s, I throw away the brown paper bag. Yes, they can be used as book coverings for back to school, but they aren’t as versatile as plastic bags. Also, they become more crinkled and therefore aren’t as resilient as plastic bags. If you are new to using brown paper bags, here are a few suggestions to reuse paper bags.

The fourth is that stores can still use plastic bags—just thicker ones. I feel like people will continue to use the plastic bags as they would before, but not actually bring them back. I will note that when shopping at stores like Aldi, which have been charging customers who don’t bring their own bags, I am more conscious about bringing a bag. I also shop less.

The goal of the bag ban is to help save the planet by reducing waste. Unfortunately, that is a great idea, but hard to implement. But, maybe there is hope. “Taxes and charges on throw away bags in other cities have reduced the number used and those which end up littering streets,” reports WGN TV.

Do you think of the plastic bag ban will help us change our ways?

Amanda Whitfield
Amanda Whitfield

Amanda Whitfield is a writer and speaker and a relationship builder. She believes that meeting people in person is important. After attending numerous fashion, startup, and creative events, she founded Windy City Cosmo is 2015 to help people make connections in the city as they build their businesses, start and end relationships and see and be seen. Over the past three years, the entrepreneurs she’s interviewed have become the most successful in Chicago and Windy City Cosmo won an award in 2017 for her work for female entrepreneurs.

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