Paper or Plastic: A Forgotten Question

by Melvin Hassan for SUST 240

Chicago has been working vigorously on a quest to become one of the nation’s “greenest” cities, so an impending ban on plastic bags should probably come as no surprise. With this ambition at hand, this past April, the City Council voted overwhelmingly, 36-10, in favor of an ordinance that bans plastic bags distribution in many retail stores. Large chain stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, which the ordinance specifically affects, have until August 2015 to ditch the plastic bag.

According to information presented in the article “Chicago Alderman Vote to Ban Plastic Bags” on the Chicago Tribune’s website by Hal Dardrick, franchise stores of or larger than 10,000 square feet are required to discontinue issuing plastic bags to consumers, as well. The ordinance does not exclude small chain stores and small franchises from the ban, but they have an additional year before they are required to follow suit.

Plastic Bags Adorn Chicago River

Plastic Bags Adorn Chicago River

The plastic bag ban ordinance, proposed by Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno of the 1st Ward, is supposed to add to the modernity of a city that characterizes itself as an urban sustainability leader. As stated by Moreno, “It’s for a new Chicago, a better Chicago.” His stance supports the notion that the ban would be better for the environment, thus making for a better Chicago. The ordinance was voted for after discussing the downsides of our city’s continued use of plastic bags. As reported in the article “Chicago City Council Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance” on NBC’s website, approximately 3.7 million plastic bags are used across the city daily. Of these bags supposedly less than three percent are being recycled. Another three to five percent of them become litter. Amongst some of the negative effects of the plastic bags are their tendencies to get stuck in drains, which cause flooding; clog landfills; and jam recycling machines.

As with all change there is the possibility of opposition and this ordinance was no different. While acknowledging the potential benefits for the environment, opponents believe that the ordinance will have harmful effects on the economy. Paper bags cost three times more than plastic. Opponents fear that this will drive an increase in prices for consumers because of the added cost to retailers. It is also feared that retailers may charge a paper bag tax similar to the one seen in stores like Aldi. In a thorny issue, some opponents believe that the ban will impact their efforts at attracting grocery stores on Chicago’s South and West Side — areas known for containing food deserts.

Despite the two contrasting arguments, the ordinance is going into effect. By being a progressive society and utilizing the necessary resources to be sustainable for the environment and economy’s sake, this can become a win-win situation. Change may depend on the use of the widely popular reusable bags. However, I think it is a task we Chicagoans are up to.

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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