Should We Recycle Plastic Grocery Bags? Illinois Thinks So.

While many U.S. cities are beginning to ban plastic bags, the state of Illinois is looking for a different solution to the litter problem. Last week, state lawmakers approved a plan to recycle -- not ban -- plastic bags. The state is now waiting to see if Gov. Pat Guinn will sign off on it.

Illinois' new plan shows the state is at least addressing the problem. But would the plan really work? What impact, if any, would it have?

Under the plan, plastic-bag manufacturers would have to set up recycling and collection programs and pay fees to the state. Manufacturers would have to submit their plans, which would include public education sections, by July 1, 2013. 

If the bill passes, it will go into effect sometime in 2017.

Supporters and Critics of Recyling Plastic Bags

Environmental groups are one of the biggest critics of the plan. First, they say reusable bags are more green than plastic ones. Second, they think the law would keep local government from being able to take any action on recycling at all. In fact, some environmental groups say manufacturers and lobbyists created the bill as a way to keep communities in Illinois from eventually banning or taxing plastic bags.

"It's a wolf in sheep's clothing," Max Muller, program director for Environment Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune. "I think we're being scammed."

Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, told Illinois news station BEZ she had concerns about the ban.

"Business groups really wanted to get rid of the ban, tax, and takeback programs that communities are doing," she said. "That was the real goal of this legislation.”

Before lawmakers created the bill, several Illinois communities had already thought about banning plastic bags. Evanston considered banning both paper and plastic bags. And Joe Moreno, Chicago Alderman, created an ordinance to ban plastic bags. But the bills never went into effect.

Terry Link, an Illinois State Senator who supports the bill, argued that the state simply needed to create a plan because none of the cities had taken action.

“How can I be criticized for doing something that will probably save the environment more than anything, because some communities didn’t react or do something beforehand?” Link told BEZ.

Other supporters of the plan include several lawmakers and most of the business community. Sponsors of the program say it could create simple, uniform regulations for businesses.

What's Wrong With Plastic Bags?
Plastic bags have been around since the 1970s. Each year, Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags, according to the environmental group Worldwatch Institute.

Environmentalist don't like plastic bags for several reasons: manufacturers use fossil fuels to make them, plastic bags turn into litter and animals can eat them or get caught in them.

What Cities and States are Doing About the Plastic Bag Problem

Some cities and states are improving recycling laws, banning bags, creating taxes and making manufacturers create recycling plans.

Laws: California, New York, Chicago, Delaware and Baltimore have created new recycling laws.

Taxes: In some areas, people use who plastic bags have to pay a fine between 5 and 25 cents a bag. California implemented a 25-cent tax per bag back in 2009. Soon after, Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia and Montgomery County, MD., all enacted a 5-cent tax per bag.

Bans: As of last year, said there were 63 bans on plastic bags. Los Angeles was one of the cities to ban plastic bags last year. Shoppers now either bring their own bags or pay 10 cents for each paper bag. Outside of the U.S., Toronto has just signed a law banning plastic bags.

U.S. States That Have Banned Plastic Bags:

U.S. Cities That Have Banned Plastic Bags:
Los Angeles;
San Francisco;
San Jose, Calif.;
Wesport, Conn.;
Brownsville, TX;
Bethel, Ala;
Outer Banks, N.C.;

Recycling Plastic Bags: So far Illinois is the only state that is hoping to implement a plastic-bag recycling program.

Will Recycling Bags Really Make an Impact?

We know that taxing plastic bags works. Treehuger wrote that in the same month Washington, D.C. began taxing plastic bags, supermarkets went from giving out 22.5 million bags to 3 million that month. 

But everyone seems to disagree on what the impact of recycling bags would be. Would it really be addressing the litter problem?

If we still have plastic bags, how can we make sure people really recycle them?

We can't.

Are the environmental groups right? Is Illinois' new law a disguised way of keeping local lawmakers from taxing or banning bags?


Posted by Ariel Brouillard on Jun 08, 2012

Featured Webinar