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Why Plastic Bags Should NOT be Banned in Chicago

14 Apr 2014

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Chicago is the 23rd-largest economy in the world. This status was not won by accident — it is the direct result of a responsible and clear-headed approach to economic development policy. The city is a dependable incubator of growth and innovation. At odds with this history of an intelligent and balanced approach to economic development policy, Chicago is considering legislation that would ban plastic retail bags.

Given the scale of the misinformation about the impact that plastic bags have on the environment, Chicago deserves better than the current debate over plastic bags.

The reality is that plastic bags make up less than 0.8 percent of Chicago's waste and typically less than 1% of all litter. Denver looked at a fee but tabled the issue for a year to study the impact. The city's office of sustainability said that restricting plastic bags had no meaningful impact on the environment. We don't think a fee or ban would move Chicago closer to achieving its sustainability goals.

In fact, the unintended consequences of a plastic bag ban contradict the city's green goals. Because the alternatives to plastic bags have far higher carbon footprints, a restriction actually will increase Chicago's collective carbon footprint. The “reusable bags” that advocates of plastic bag restrictions support are so much more energy-intensive to produce that some must be used 131 times before they are as environmentally friendly as a single plastic bag used once.

Economic Concerns

What a bag ban will impact, however, is the job security of 3,000 hardworking Illinois people who depend on our industry to put food on the table. The plastic bag industry, which includes manufacturing and recycling, provides the kinds of jobs that cities throughout the country are seeking to attract. Undermining the very companies that should be growing jobs throughout the state is not how Chicago has led the Midwest and not how it can succeed further in the future.

There has been a noticeable absence of these very real economic concerns in the conversation on this issue thus far. The fact that the economic fate of people who work in our industry is rarely a part of this debate is unacceptable.

Chicago is known for taking centrist, balanced approaches to public policy issues. There is no question that cities need to pay attention to the waste they produce — including, among thousands of other items, plastic bags. But banning a tiny portion of that waste stream should not be taken as meaningful environmental progress, especially when doing so would actually direct people to environmentally inferior options and jeopardize the livelihoods of thousands of people in our state.

Keeping up with the coasts has never been Chicago's operating principle, and this great city shouldn't follow others down this misguided path. Chicago should lead with smart, centrist policy that balances economic and environmental goals. A renewed focus on recycling programs and education is the responsible approach, and Chicagoans should encourage their elected leaders to find a way to protect both the environment and working families.

For more information on recycling, biodegradable plastic bags, or on removing plastics from your company's waste stream, contact Atlantic Poly.

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