Kicking the “Paper or Plastic?” Habit through Reusable Bag Legislation in Chicago and Its Suburbs

by Danielle LaBella for SUST 240

Making everyday habits more sustainable is becoming a national trend, and larger cities are setting the standard. The dispute involving paper-versus-plastic-versus-reusable bags has been going on for years among the public as well as in municipal governments. In April 2014 here in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his team voted overwhelmingly in favor of a partial ban on plastic bags. By August 2015, retailers in the City of Chicago larger than 10,000 square feet will be required to eliminate use of plastic bags, or they will suffer a fine of $300-$500 per violation. Small independent and non-franchise stores will be unaffected at first, but will have to follow suit by August 2016.

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Chicago’s logo to encourage reusable bag use


Activists living in Schaumburg feel their city should be leading the reusable bag movement, stopping the nonsensical paper-versus-plastic choice given to customers at retail establishments. After the ban idea was shut down by Schaumburg officials, activists wrote a counter-proposal to charge consumers $.10 per paper or plastic bag. There is hope that reinforcing reusable bags by punishing bad habits could be proactive steps in their movement. However, Schaumburg officials have decided to wait for the outcomes of the Chicago plastic bag ban before they initiate action.

Schaumburg Trustee Marge Connolly claims the winding and sometimes hard to recognize Schaumburg borders with its many neighboring suburbs will create confusion for consumers in regards to where they will need to use reusable bags, and could furthermore create a competitive disadvantage for Schaumburg businesses. Activists disagree with this reasoning, as cities such as Evanston are instituting the same law as Chicago in August; and like Schaumburg, Evanston borders not just the city but other suburban communities. Moreover, Schaumburg retail locations such as Whole Foods Market, Aldi, and Ikea are already following the reusable bag trend. Time will soon tell how Chicago’s and Evanston’s legislation will affect future suburbs’ actions.

Studies suggest that effectiveness of reusable bags depends on the material and number of times it’s used. Click here to read more about this debate, and how reusable bags contribute to waste reduction and are thus a small but helpful contribution to a sustainable future.

LaBella 240 blog image1My boyfriend and I recently ordered take-out at a restaurant in Chinatown called Joy Yee Noodle. To my shock, our food came in a reusable bag! I have never experienced this before, and I was greatly impressed by this initiative. We have now used this bag many times, perhaps out of appreciation towards this effort. We soon discovered their original location is in Evanston. Having locations in areas with a soon-to-be partial plastic bag ban may have propelled this inspiring kick-start.

Even Chicago high school art students have been recently involved. They were encouraged to participate in the 2015 Chicago Farmer’s Market reusable bag design contest. Plans like these help educate people on new lifestyle habits that are necessary for a sustainable future. To find out more about current campaigns and ways you can help, click here!

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During the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.


About Suburban Sustainability

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