Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
Over in the Land of Lincoln, they are the latest state to take a swipe at plastic bag consumption. To us consumers, plastic bags are a versatile product. They were designed to replace the paper bag for consumers to carry home their groceries. Although, today it takes a lot more plastic bags than paper bags to bring home the same amount of groceries. The problem starts with what Americans do with the millions of plastic bags. Some utilize every last one as trash bags. Meanwhile, many plastic bags find their ways woven in fences, swinging in trees and clogging drains.
Earlier this year Illinois Sen. Terry Link introduced a bill called the Plastic Bag and Film Recycle Act. The bill requires manufacturers of plastic carryout bags to register with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and pay the agency an initial registration fee and annual registration renewal fee. The bill also prohibits a manufacturer from selling or offering to sell plastic carryout bags in Illinois unless the manufacturer is registered with the agency and its name is printed on the plastic carryout bags it manufactures.
“The whole intent of this bill is to get plastic bags out of the landfill,” Sen. Link said.
How the bill was shaped
Sen. Link says he has been working on this project for five to six years. It all started with a pilot program in Illinois’s third largest county. The large retail stores in Lake County put plastic bag/film recycling containers in their stores and promoted the collection of the bags with public relations.
“It was amazing when we did the pilot program, how many people were willing to take them to the stores. They understand that they are not biodegradable and that they are going to be around forever,” Link said.
The bill requires each manufacturer to develop, and submit to the Agency, a plan to support the collection and recycling of plastic carryout bags and plastic film product wrap. It also prohibits retailers from purchasing plastic carryout bags from manufacturers under certain circumstances. The act encourages manufacturers to include recycled content in the plastic carryout bags that they produce.
“This is an environmental bill more so than anything else. People were saying we are putting regulations on people, we’re trying to put a cost on it. The cost is to the manufactures and they signed off on the bill,” Link said.
Mark Daniels, the chair of the American Progressive Bag Alliance issued the following statement regarding the Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act:
“The Illinois State Legislature is taking the right approach toward recycling of plastic bags, sacks and wraps by prioritizing recycling through the Plastic and Bag Film Recycling Act. More than 30,000 Americans depend on the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry to support their families, 3,000 in Illinois alone, and this legislation will foster greater recycling efforts, resulting in new green jobs in what has been a difficult economy. The Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act forms a uniform policy on plastic bag recycling, so that a patchwork of local laws do not hamper consumer choice and economic competition in the state.”
Los Angeles bans bags
One way to curb the plastic bag pollution is to do what Los Angeles recently did: Put a ban on plastic bags. Once enacted, large stores will have six months to comply and small stores will have one year. Stores will also be required to charge 10 cents per paper bag. It has also been suggested to store owners in L.A. to start encouraging customers to shop with reusable bags. Stores are also being encouraged to put signs up or offer coupons for a few cents off a purchase.
Solutions for the future
For Sen. Link the bill was a personal one. When he goes grocery shopping he says he tries to use reusable bags as much as possible for the plastic bags he does take home, he brings them back to the store to be recycled. But most importantly, it became a family issue.
“I have got grandchildren now and you see the plastic bags and realize that if we don’t correct what we have today, it is going to be a huge problem for them,” he said.
If you could have it your way, how would you help control the massive waste of plastic bags?
• Propose a ban on plastic bags.
• Discourage use by charging a fee per bag.
• Initiate a Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act.
• Tax the use of plastic bags, and set that money aside to a carbon emission reduction fund.
No matter which route the Hoosier state will take, something needs to be put in the works sooner, rather than later. There are few streets one can drive down without finding a plastic bag blowing in the wind or clogging a storm drain. The problem will only get worse as consumers continue to shop for their daily necessities.
Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.