Chicago Bans Plastic Shopping Bags (VIDEO)

Plastic bags will soon be replaced with reusable biodegradable or compostable bags. (Angela G. Barnes/Medill)

By Angela G. Barnes and Anne Arntson

Soon customers will not have the option to use plastic shopping bags in stores.

Chicago is joining the ranks of other major cities to ban plastic shopping bags: Dallas, Houston, and parts of California.  This new citywide ban goes into effect in a matter of days.

The first phase of the ban begins August 1, 2015.  This will affect larger stores that are more than 10,000 square feet. Mark Nathan, an executive at Keep Global an environmentally sound agency says the second phase of the ban will take affect next year and smaller stores will have to follow suit.

“It will affect all businesses as of August 1, 2016,” said Nathan. “All retail establishments other than restaurants and food organizations.”

Nathan said plastic bags used at these organizations are exempt because of what their new bags are made of.

“Part of the materials that go into making compostable bags are organic matters, so for food safety reasons they want to keep those things separate.”

Although smaller stores have another year to get ready for the change, Elvira Rios, manager at Los Hermanos Rios, says this ban will cost her customers more money.

Los Hermanos Rios grocery store is preparing for the ban. (Angela G. Barnes/Medill)
Shoppers  at Los Hermanos Rios may have to pay for their shopping bags. (Angela G. Barnes/Medill)

“I will just tell customers you will need to bring your own reusable bags,” Rios said.  “…or there’s going to be a charge for a bag.”

Rios said many of her customers will not be happy if the store has to charge them for shopping bags.  In the meantime, Rios said she’s looking for cost-effective ways to deal with the ban next year.

According to the City of Chicago Retail Bag Use Article XXIII, stores can use reusable plastic bags that are thicker, hold a minimum of 22 pounds and can be reused 125 times.

Unfortunately, stores have a small time window to comply to this ordinance or pay stiff penalties.

“If they choose not to comply there’s actually a fine,” said Nathan. “Companies that are required to comply with this legislation and they don’t comply they’re actually going to be charged a fine up to $300 -$500 per offense.”

This new city ordinance will facilitate more sustainable practices. According to city council there’s an estimated 3.7 million plastic bags used citywide everyday.  The problem is that 3 to 5 percent of those bags become hazardous to the environment as litter, get stuck in drains causing flooding, clogging landfills and jamming recycling machinery.

Nathan said Keep Global provides more sustainable options for plastic bags, but they are not your ordinary bag.

“Our plastic bags are not plastic at all,” he said.  “They are compostable retail bags that are made of organic material.”

These “compostable” retail bags are more friendlier to the environment because when they’re thrown out the bag will break down in a matter of months keeping the environment clean from litter unlike the current plastic bags.

Photo at top: Plastic bags will soon be replaced with reusable biodegradable or compostable bags. (Angela G. Barnes/Medill)