Amid the talk of pension reform, Medicaid cuts, and gambling expansion, you may have missed a bill that Illinois legislators quietly passed last week to address the hot-button issue of what to do about plastic bags that end up in landfills. Senate Bill 3442, introduced by Sens. Terry Link (D-Lake Bluff) and John Millner (R-St. Charles), would put plastic bag manufacturers on the hook for tracking and increasing the amount of plastic bags and film that are recycled.
So why does this bill have so many environmental groups and cities upset?
It comes down to a portion of the bill that was added to attract enough legislators to pass it: the home rule preemption. While the bill requires plastic bag manufacturers to expand access to deposit stations for plastic film materials, it also puts the kibosh on any plans that local governments may have to regulate the use of plastic bags in their municipalities.
Environmentalists say this was a veiled attempt by the manufacturing and retail lobbies to, in one fell swoop, eliminate the possibility that some Illinois communities may someday ban or tax single-use plastic bags. “Business groups really wanted to get rid of the ban, tax, and takeback programs that communities are doing,” said Jennifer Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council. “That was the real goal of this legislation.”
Evanston recently considered banning single-use plastic and paper bags; Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno also proposed an ordinance to ban plastic bags. Neither city has adopted any such measure.
State Senator Terry Link said because places like Evanston and Chicago failed to take decisive action on this issue, something was needed at the statewide level — and the home rule preemption was a reasonable price to pay to get the votes he needed. “How can I be criticized for doing something that will probably save the environment more than anything, because some communities didn’t react or do something beforehand?” said Link.
If Gov. Pat Quinn signs the bill Illinois residents should start seeing more plastic bag and film collection points in 2014. The bill would also sunset in 2017 — a target year that many environmental groups have etched in their minds. They hope between now and then that local municipalities will ratchet up the pressure on their state legislators not to renew the bill.