When you shop at DePaul’s Etc. grocery store or go shopping for clothes at any of the shops in Lincoln Park, you don’t usually think twice about the plastic bag that you leave the store with. Chicago City Council’s recent vote and overwhelming passage of an ordinance that will prohibit major retail, grocery, drug, convenience stores and restaurants from offering their customers plastic bags will start in August of 2015. This change will allow for businesses to offer decompostable paper bags to their customers for a small price, forcing the customer to really think about paper vs. plastic.
This may sound like a burden to those of you who have not had to live a life where plastic bags are banned. I, however, have been lucky enough to have been raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where plastic bags have been banned since 2007, and I can attest from firsthand experience that it really is not that bad.
Companies and store owners will face most of the burden initially, as they will have to provide alternative paper bags, which cost about three times more than plastic bags.
However, in a recent interview on “Here & Now,” a National Public Radio (NPR) program, Guillermo Rodriguez of the San Francisco Department of the Environment commented on San Francisco storeowners’ experiences with the ban.
“We haven’t heard complaints from merchants claiming that it’s an economic loss for them. In fact, I think for many of them, anecdotally, they’re actually saving money, because they’re not purchasing as many bags as they once were.”
The only thing that changes with the consumer in terms of this ban is that we will be encouraged to think about how we will carry our purchases from the store before we reach the checkout counter. This will hopefully motivate shoppers to bring their own bags.
Kelly Tzoumis, a professor of environmental public policy at DePaul, is thrilled about the new law and believes this is a prudent move for environmental reasons.
“I believe that this is a very good first step and environmental policy route for Chicago,” Tzoumis said. “Since a huge problem for the city is littering and the clogging of gutters by plastic bags, a small surcharge from the consumer will put cost of pollution back into the price of the good.”
Tzoumis believes that the new ordinance will not substantially affect business revenue, and that if it becomes too inconvenient for customers, that will just encourage them to reuse plastic bags that they already own.
Ultimately, this new ordinance will make Chicago a more environmentally sustainable city. Most of us probably have a filled drawer or pile of plastic bags lying around somewhere that we’ve collected over the months of grocery trips that we can easily reuse. If not, the simple purchase of a reusable vinyl bag from your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, which costs between $1 and $5, will suffice.