The Chicago City Council today voted 36-10 to ban plastic bags in most stores next year, a change that backers say will improve the city's environment but opponents contend will harm the local economy.
The ban, proposed by Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, 1st, was a long time in coming. Moreno’s proposal had been debated for many months, and a similar measure was first proposed seven years ago.
Moreno called the bags “relics of the past,” saying other options like reusable bags were available. “It’s for a new Chicago, a better Chicago,” Moreno said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported the effort, saying it was in keeping with his efforts to improve the environment. He said he had expanded curbside recycling and was taking steps to regulate petroleum coke, which has been described as a scourge on the partly industrial Southeast Side.
“This is the right step to do,” Emanuel said, contending it won’t affect his efforts to attract grocers to so-called food deserts on the South and West Sides ¬– an issue raised by Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, who voted against the ban. The mayor said “it puts the city on the right path as it relates to its environmental policy.”
Environmental advocates said the ban would reduce the number of bags littering parkways, fluttering in trees, bloating landfills and clogging drains. But store owners and plastic bag manufacturers said the paper bags likely to replace plastic pose cause their own share of environmental woes and, because they cost more, will lead to higher prices at city stores.
Moreno “ has failed to take into account the affects that this ban will have on all the people and the businesses of the city of Chicago,” said Ald. Nicholas Sposato, 36t.h. His Northwest Side ward borders four suburbs, and he said store owners and shoppers could cross the border to do business.
But Ald. George Cardenas, 12th, said it was time for the city to take steps to improve the environment.
Plastic “clogs our drains, sewers and waterways,” Cardenas said. “We’re not Neanderthals, we can do better and we should.”
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association proposed that the city require that stores charge a 5- or 10-cent fee for each paper bag to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to stores, as is done in most California communities.
Aldermen, however, were afraid of the perception that they would be nickeling and diming city residents ahead of next year’s city elections. Stores are free to impose their own bag fees, they pointed out.
The ban will go into effect in August 2015 and apply only to chain stores -- defined as a group of three or more that have the same owner -- or franchise stores of more than 10,000 square feet. Smaller chain stores and franchises would have to ditch the plastic bags a year later.
“It gives a lot of time to the store and the consumer to adjust,” Emanuel said.
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