In late 2011, I introduced the "Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance," with 5 co-sponsors. Over the last year and a half, I have held aldermanic briefings and put together a talented and dedicated working group of volunteers to help further this cause. Next Tuesday, June 18, the Health and Environmental Protection Committee, on which I sit, will finally hear the case for freeing our city from this expensive and destructive product.
The average person uses 500 single-use disposable plastic bags a year, an average of 1.37 bags per day. This translates to 73,980 plastic bags being used in each of our 50 wards, every day, or 3.7 million plastic bags being used city-wide, every day.
Despite what the proponents of the status-quo would like you to believe, these bags are not "free." Retailers purchase them for roughly 2 cents each and pass that cost onto customers. If each bag costs 2 cents and 3.7 million bags are used every day in our city, Chicagoans are paying approximately $74,000 a day -- or over $27 MILLION a year -- for these destructive products.
The environmental impact of these bags is plain to see. Take a look at the on/off ramps of any expressway in our city and you will see hundreds of bags littering our landscape and caught in the trees of all our neighborhoods. Between 3 and 5 percent of all plastic bags become litter. These bags get stuck in our drains causing flooding and costing us tax dollars. They clog our landfills and jam our recycling machinery (Just 1.5 percent of bags are recycled in IL, according to a recent Illinois Commodity/Waste Generation and Characterization Study).
The unseen environmental impact is even worse. Plastic bags are a significant contributor to all of the five gyres of giant, floating masses of plastic found in each of our Earth's oceans. Last year, a gyre was also discovered in the Great Lakes. Also, most disgustingly, plastic bags are the only form of solid waste that readily becomes airborne. Meaning, they break down into smaller and smaller pieces until, as polymer molecule form, it enters our food chain. We are, literally, beginning to consume our own garbage.
The companies that most benefit/profit from our use of plastic bags are petro-chemical behemoths, like ExxonMobil and Dow Chemical. These preservers of an unsustainable status-quo have, over the last few years, been waging a war of disinformation against plastic bag restrictions. They use all their typical dirty (but legal) tricks: discrediting legitimate science; spending millions on lobbyists, filing lawsuits, etc.
In 2008, the City Council considered a similar ordinance, which ultimately, at the urging of the proponents of the status-quo, was watered down to focus on recycling bags. The last five years have proven this approach to be a failure. Now is the time to revisit the issue.
Passage of the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance will not only help move our people away from these disposable relics of the old economy, but it will help Chicago take its rightful place as a leader of the sustainable and fiscally responsible new economy. Plastic bags will still be allowed in stores under 5,000 square feet, which will limit the effect on small businesses.
If you would like to support us, please write/visit/Facebook message your alderman and tell them why. The hearing on June 18 is in Council Chambers and is open to the public.