CITY HALL — A City Council committee approved a ban on plastic grocery bags Thursday that would affect supermarkets and chain stores, but leave small, independent retailers exempt.
"This goes back to the original ordinance that I introduced," said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), who has been trying to pass the ban for two years.
The ban would take effect in August 2015 at larger chain stores and franchises with more than 10,000 square feet of space. Smaller chains, such as 7-Eleven outlets, would get an extra year to comply. Small, independent stores would be exempt.
"The ultimate goal is to change people's behavior, and this is the best way to do that," Moreno said. He added that the ordinance is "not a panacea," but that over time it should encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to all stores.
"It's gonna be easier for mom-and-pops to adapt," Moreno said.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the Health Committee, which passed the ordinance without opposition, called plastic bags "a dangerous form of solid waste." He pointed to how they wind up caught in trees and bushes, clog landfills and, at worst, break down into tiny particles that enter the food system.
According to Moreno, Chicagoans on average use 500 plastic bags a year, or 3.7 million a day overall.
Yet Tanya Triche, spokeswoman for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said it would cost consumers as major retailers shift to costlier paper bags and pass the expense on.
"This is an environmental policy that is going to have a direct and immediate cost increase on consumers," Triche said. "They should expect to see higher prices in the future."
Mayor Rahm Emanuel rejected a fee on paper bags as part of the ban on plastic as it could be perceived as a tax. Moreno emphasized Thursday merchants are welcome to charge for paper bags, as it will only spur consumers to change to reusable bags, but he also pointed to successful stores like Trader Joe's that only use paper without adding an extra charge.
Lee Califf, chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a lobbying group for plastic-bag manufacturers and recyclers, said the new measure would be "placing undue burden on big-box retailers and grocers and the families that shop in these stores." He added that it "directly damages the city's business-friendly reputation."
Emanuel fully endorsed the ban, with the new amendments, last month. Although 47 aldermen at one point signed on to Moreno's ordinance, opposition emerged, with Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th) saying it threatened small merchants, especially in wards on the city borders. With the amendments, however, it passed the committee Thursday without opposition and without a single vote against. It now heads for approval by the full City Council next week.
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