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Nick Magrisso’s Blog

Chicago: "Ban da Bag"

Nick Magrisso

Posted June 20, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably

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Chicago is a world class city.  Our skyline and beaches, architecture and landscapes; our people and neighborhoods, are among the many reasons we don’t simply strive to be a great city, we are one.  In an act of laudable leadership by Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, Chicago has moved closer to reducing one of the city’s most ubiquitous sources of litter and environmental hazards---plastic bags.  Single-use plastic bags litter our streets, clog our drain pipes, flap among our trees, ensnare helpless wildlife, and represent a significant financial cost to tax payers and local governments who are forced to deal with the mess.

In a City Council hearing this week, Alderman Moreno demonstrated that there is broad support for banning plastic bags in Chicago. Simply put, single-use plastic bags pose an unnecessary harm to our environment and health, and leave a legacy of pollution for future generations.  Moving Chicago toward a reusable bag policy is not only the right approach for the region; it’s a smart one for Chicagoans from all walks of life to embrace. It’s good public policy.

 The majority of plastic bags are designed for single-use, which means to the average consumer, they have very short lives, theoretically, before being discarded permanently into the environment.  Moreover, plastic bags, due to their petrochemical composition, don’t readily break down and linger in our environment---indefinitely.   In addition to the environmental impacts, plastic bag litter is becoming an expensive problem around the nation and in Illinois.  According to Alderman Moreno, 3.7 million plastic bags are used in Chicago every day.  And the cold hard truth: each plastic bag costs us approximately 2 cents each (hidden cost to the consumer at the point of sale), leaving Chicagoans to pay $74,000 a day for the legacy of pollution.   What’s more, local governments are typically left to foot the bill in cleaning up the prolific source of plastic bag pollution when they clog our drains and litter our streets.  Considering a very low percentage of plastic bags are recycled in Illinois (1.5 % according to a recent study), the tax payer pays—yet again—to dispose of the insidious trash in landfills.

 NRDC applauds the leadership of Alderman Joe Moreno, and strongly urges the Chicago City Council and Mayor Emanuel to act promptly to enact an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags.  Not only does such action encourage responsible consumer behavior while securing a cleaner environment for future generations, it changes the paradigm around our single-use culture in, and around the region.  As we so often see, such positive change could spur action at the state level by encouraging the Illinois General Assembly to enact a state-wide plastic bag ban.

 As a lifelong Chicagoan, and someone who on a daily basis makes decisions to reduce the waste in my life, I am not only encouraged by the proposed Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance, but would like to encourage others. Chicagoans, call and write your alderman, contact the Mayor; and ask that they support Alderman Moreno’s efforts to ban single-use plastic bags.  Let’s add Chicago to the growing list of cities across this nation and around the world that are coming up with solutions to the plaguing problems of solid waste pollution.  Let’s show the world, yet again, we are a world class city committed to sustainable solutions.  

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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