Plastic bag ban, earlier liquor sales on Sundays approved by Chicago City Council

April 30, 2014

The loved or loathed plastic bag has been sent packing by the Chicago City Council in a vote Wednesday.

"It's a big first step in taking these out of our sewers, lakes, trees and neighborhoods," said Ald. Joe Moreno of the 1st Ward.

Moreno said every day close to 75,000 of these bags are used in each of the city's 50 wards, and many wind up as litter, which ban supporters say cost the city millions of dollars to clean up.

The ban goes into effect in August of next year at larger stores and a year later at smaller ones. Restaurants and small, independent retailers will be exempt.

Though supporters claim that the ordinance is better for the environment, retailers have fought hard against it, arguing that paper bags cost more money than plastic.

"Plastic bags cost an average 3 cents to retailers, paper bags, which is the next least expensive option, cost 10 cents on average," said Tanya Triche, vice president and general counsel of the Illinois Retailers Merchants Association. "So it's a direct and immediate cost."

Some alderman fear that the cost will scare away big retail chains from food deserts.

"Grocers are already looking for reasons not to come to South and West Side communities, and we are giving them more reasons by forcing them to spend money on paper bags," said Ald. Leslie Hairston of the 5th Ward.

But ban supporters, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, dispute the argument about increased cost.

"It's not like the cost for bags, as it relates to groceries, starts after this regulation," Emanuel said. "You already incur a cost for the production and service free of plastic bags."

"ALDI, Costco, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's do not use plastic bags, they are doing fine," Moreno said. "We've got great businesses doing well without these."

The Illinois Retailers Merchants Association said grocers use different business models, so just because paper works for some, doesn't mean it works for all. The merchants support using a store charge for using a single paper bag, something San Francisco does to encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags to stores.

The council also approved a measure to sell liquor at earlier times on Sunday. Large grocery stores will soon be allowed to start selling liquor at 8 a.m. Previously, liquor sales were prohibited until 11 a.m.

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