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Chicago's Plastic Bag Ban Could Backfire, Environmentalists Warn

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Jun 23, 2015 7:55PM

Chicago is jumping into the movement to ban the use of plastic shopping bags this August. But the imminent change to how local shoppers typically carry their purchases home could have unintended consequences or backfire on environmentalists.

When Chicago's City Council voted to enact a ban on one-use plastic shopping bags, following in the footsteps of San Francisco, Seattle, Austin and countless cities around the world, city officials said they hoped it would reduce waste and litter and bring Chicago more in-line with best environmental practices.

But in preparing for the ban to take effect Aug. 1, some retailers are planning to give out thicker, ostensibly-reusable plastic bags for free, according to the Tribune. As a result, shoppers will be able to make their purchases and carry their goods home in free plastic bags, just as they currently can, but the bags will be made of more plastic.

Unlike other cities with more encompassing bag bans, Chicago's ban is only applicable to franchises and chain stores. Walmart has already begun testing out its new plastic bags, designed to comply with the ordinance with a 2.25 mil material and the ability to carry at least 22 pounds for at least 125 uses.

One shopper at the Walmart Neighborhood Market at 7535 S. Ashland Ave. told the Tribune he re-uses the bags, but typically not as reusable shopping bags. Instead, they line his trash cans and help him dispose of diapers from his 8-month-old son. After that second use, they become trash. Target and Jewel Osco are also going to be handing out free reusable plastic bags to customers once the ban kicks in, the Tribune says.

While the free bag system will continue to make shopping easier, environmentalists say it doesn't really fit the spirit of the new law, which is to get people to reduce wastefulness by reusing their own bags continually.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) told the Tribune he wanted retailers to emulate Costco, which requires customers to bring their own bags or us leftover boxes, or Whole Foods, which only offers recycled paper bags for free and credits shoppers with ten cents if they bring their own bag. "Ultimately what will happen then is we'll just change the ordinance and make it even stricter," Moreno said, which could include "not allowing them to give away free bags."

Other municipalities, like San Francisco, which is working toward a "Zero Waste" goal that would eliminate waste that goes to landfills entirely, ban stores from giving out bags entirely.