Chicago alderman wants to ban plastic bags

October 14, 2011

(Flickr/agit-prop)

Chicago Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) will introduce an ordinance at next month's city council meeting that would prohibit stores from giving plastic bags to customers. Moreno said this move would help the environment and save the city money.

According to Matthew Bailey, Director of Legislative Affairs & Communications for the alderman, an article in Rolling Stone magazine entitled "The Plastic Bag Wars" appararently inspired Moreno to look into the issue, 

"The industry isn't going to do it on their own," said Moreno. "And more progressive companies like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Aldi's are doing it. Unfortunately, they don't make up a large enough portion of the grocery stores, and we're going to force them to do it."

Moreno said he originally wanted to tax retailers who buy plastic bags, which would have the added benefit of increasing the revenue for the city. However, talks with the Department of Law indicated that might require state government to get involved, in that Chicago has "no home rule power to levy a tax on occupations," Bailey said via email. Under the proposed ordinance, stores could still use recyclable paper bags and sell reusable bags.

Moreno said he'd pursue the taxation option if the ordinance to ban the bags doesn't pass, but he does not want the cost burden to fall on consumers. Speaking of the retailers, he said, "If they really love these bags so much, well then they can pay the piper. They can pay ten cents a bag to buy them and pass them out to their consumers, and maybe [we'll] have a section in the ban that if they want to opt for that they can."

Moreno said he knows this ordinance would require changing the way consumers behave, "but in the long run, it's a necessary change. I think most consumers get it."

Many European nations have levied taxes on plastic bags, including Italy, Belgium and Ireland, whereas others make customers pay for them in countries like Switzerland, Germany and Holland. Multiple cities in India outright ban the bags.

"I am, right now, I'm at [a] school in my ward, I'm about to meet with the principal, I'm on the playground," said Moreno. "And I can count eight bags just sitting here...it's windy out today, bouncing off the fences in this little playground area....Someone's got to clean those up, and it's city taxpayers that pay for that."