PI Original Adam Doster Thursday May 8th, 2008, 11:55am

Chicago Plastic Bag Ordinance Passes Committee

Is it a good first step or an insufficient approach? Opinion is divided about an ordinance that would stem the use of plastic bags in Chicago, which unanimously passed a City Council committee Wednesday.

The current measure mandates that stores deriving 25 percent of ...

Is it a good first step or an insufficient approach? Opinion is divided about an ordinance that would stem the use of plastic bags in Chicago, which unanimously passed a City Council committee Wednesday.

The current measure mandates that stores deriving 25 percent of their gross sales from food and pharmaceuticals install plastic bag recycling bins in a “visible, easily accessible” location and collect and recycle those bags “free of foreign material.”

This measure is much softer than the one originally proposed by Aldermen Ed Burke (14th Ward) and Marge Laurino (39th Ward), which sought an outright ban similar to San Francisco's plastic bag law. Protests from concerned retailers forced the council members to water-down the ordinance. Still, Burke is calling the approved version "a good beginning."

Speaking to Chicago Public Radio this morning, Mike Nowak of the Chicago Recycling Coalition says he would have liked to see the ordinance include additional businesses:

I would like to see it expand even more. I feel as though we can teach people to go into the Home Depot, we can teach people to go into a Staples, and take their plastic bags with them, and they will learn.

The proposal is expected to go before the full council next week.

(More after the jump ...)

As Katharine Mieszkowski wrote for Salon last year, the more we phase out the use of plastic bags, the better. Americans recycle only 2 percent of the bags and manufacturing them taxes our planet enormously:

The plastic bag is an icon of convenience culture, by some estimates the single most ubiquitous consumer item on Earth, numbering in the trillions. They're made from petroleum or natural gas with all the attendant environmental impacts of harvesting fossil fuels. One recent study found that the inks and colorants used on some bags contain lead, a toxin. Every year, Americans throw away some 100 billion plastic bags after they've been used to transport prescription home from the drugstore or a quart of milk from the grocery store. It's equivalent to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of oil.

For more on how plastic bags -- and synthetic polymers in general -- are plaguing our environment, check out this excerpt from Alan Weisman's excellent book The World Without Us.

(h/t Gapers Block)

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