This past May, the Evanston City Council unanimously adopted the next phase of a communitywide plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 20 percent reduction in two years relative to 2005 baseline levels.

This laudable “Livability Plan” is a collaboration of the City of Evanston Office of Sustainability and is supported by many local community and environmental organizations.

The Livability Plan is an affirmation of Evanston’s tremendous progress in reducing its GHC footprint.

Lee Califf is executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an association of plastic bag manufacturers.

According to the latest Evanston Climate Action Plan Update Report (2012), “Since 2003 the amount of recyclables has drastically increased, indicating Evanston residents’ growing commitment to recycling.”

This same report says the City should “Ensure that policy decisions at all levels seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

It’s astonishing then, that just 60 days later, the Evanston City Council introduced an ordinance to ban plastic bags in retail stores, which would result in a perverse incentive for retailers and consumers to switch to paper bags.

Why is this so concerning? Because according to the City of Evanston’s own public presentations, plastic bags have less environmental impact, and specifically, less GHG than other types of bags, including, purchased reusable bags, which are nearly all made in China.

The plastic bag ban under consideration would fly in the face of Evanston’s reputation as a model green city.

Banning plastic bags would force Evanston consumers to options that increase greenhouse gas levels in our atmosphere.

Compared to American-made plastic bags, which are produced from a by-product of natural gas and are 100-percent recyclable, manufacturing and distributing reusable bags is an energy intensive process and that emits more carbon than the process for plastic bags.

Environmental studies have also proven that plastic bags aren’t a major contributor to litter. In fact, they make up less than 0.5 percent of the municipal waste stream and traditionally a fraction of one percent of litter in most cities.

And 70 to 75 percent of plastic bags are repurposed for home conveniences, including trash can liners and pet waste pick-up.

Perhaps that is why there’s little to no support for regulating plastic bags whenever this issue is discussed. Even the local Evanston environmental groups aren’t interested in banning plastic bags and many in the environmental community opposed Chicago’s partial ban.

Fortunately, Evanston has the opportunity to embrace recycling as the path toward a sustainable future.

Recycling continues to improve in communities across the nation, and plastic bag recycling programs in particular are a proven success. With the progress Evanston has already made, the city could further its efforts with a focus on plastics recycling of all types, not just plastic bags.

I urge the City Council to develop policies which comport with the Climate Action and Livability Plans and vote against any “feel good” legislation that will have the unintended effect of damaging Evanston’s sustainable future.

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  1. Bag Ban Inconsistent with Adopted Climate Protection

    Bravo, Lee Califf! I hope the City Council pays attention to you.

  2. Nature abhors a vacuum

    Nature abhors a vacuum, but what it abhors even more is being filled with the same old hot air from the plastics industry.  You've got to hand it to these guys; it takes a special kind of arrogance for a plastics trade association head to lecture the public about the local environmental policy. But no one has organized an opposition to them, so by golly they're going to hammer the same talking points home.  And when there's this much hammering, you know someone's afraid of losing money.  

    In this case, Mr. Califf is serving as a surrogate of sorts for Hilex Poly, the plastics giant that stands to lose from municipal plastic bag bans.   Hilex has been busily suing municipalities up and down and the California coast as they enact plastic bag bans and even some reusable bag entrepreneurs who get too big for their britches in Hilex's view, such as Chico, CA's "Bag Monster".      

    Mr. Califf does neatly exploit the fact that the Evanston public presentation contained some data from studies funded by the plastics industry itself. I think this was the Office of Sustainability's idea of trying to give some balance to the presentation, or else a result of them being rushed, but each of us can give what we feel is due credence to industry-backed studies.  

    It is skillful misdirection to state that plastic bags are 100% recyclable, without stating what portion of plastic bags are actually recycled.  The plastics industry will cling to an EPA figure of 11.8% without citing that this includes several other types of plastic products beyond bags.  That's not exactly a reassuring rate and likely an overestimate in particular jurisdictions.   For example, in Los Angeles the Bureau of Sanitation stated that a mere 5% of plastic bags were actually recycled locally.  

    It's fascinating to see Mr. Califf fall back on an outmoded protectionist argument in addressing a progressive community, namely that reusable bags are mostly made in China.   Like most things made in China, one can usually find a similar product made in this country–it's just going to cost more. Go on, play with Google and see if you any trouble finding an American made reusable bag in less than 30 seconds.      

    Some feel that California municipalities are interested in these policies because of their particular sensitivity to ocean ecology.  In fact, there are already alarming signs of ecological damage in the Great Lakes from plastic bags and other plastic products.  Citizens ought to familarize themselves with the research of Dr. Lorena Rios-Mendoza concerning the amount and density of plastics products already floating free and harming the ecosystem of the Great Lakes.  This research certainly helped push Illinois's cosmetic microbead ban forward.  Globally, the UN Enviroment Programme puts the cost of damage to the marine environment from plastic waste at $13 billion annually.  It also asserts that this is a conservative estimate.  Suddenly, that American-made reusable bag doesn't seem so expensive.  

    As for Hilex Poly, the beat goes on.  As more and more municipalities adopt plastic bag bans, they've got to get with the times.  So last month, apparently seeing the writing on the wall, Hilex acquired Durobag, the world's largest paper bag manufacturer.  Just keep that in mind as some of these surrogates twist themselves into corkscrews in the coming months and years.  The bottom line here is Hilex Poly's bottom line.  



    1. Then you must be behind the

      Then you must be behind the corporate grocer.  The ones who are pushing the bans and making sure cities do no environmental studies and the citizens are not allowed to vote.  That is why it's a fee.  Most of the opposed to this ban are actual citizens.  The recycling plants like Hilex have just bought up a paper bag company.  They will give you what ever the market wants.  The Corporate grocer already wants you to check out your groceries, now bring your own bags.  They keep the fee, the savings on not supplying bags, the price of reusable bags and the sales of prepackaged plastic that goes up.

      These bans are done without facts but myths. Karen Beasley of the Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on Topsail Island, which since 1996 has maintained and index of sick and injured turtles, has not documented a case of a turtle being injured by a plastic bag. 

      Andres Cozar, a research scientis at the University of Cadiz, Spain, who originated the theory that there were 1 million tons of plastics swirling around the world's oceans.  Cozar and a team of scientist embarked on a global resarch mission to document the polution. 

      Their stuides found only 7000 tons, yet the environmentalists continue to cite the million ton 'garbage patch theory" refuted by Cozar's own research.

      The Reason Organisation came out with three separate reports this month.  How green is that bag ban and The effect of California bag bans.  Read them. 

      The bans don't work because you will find cities raising the fees, in the name of making people use reusable bags.  People can still purchase plastic bags and use them.  This only makes people buy their own bags.  Period. 

      The most damaging part of these bans is that they take the focus off recycling.  Already recycling bins have been removed in Dallas Krogers.  In the name of pushing reusable bags.  Those bins also take other thin plastic but noooo, the band wagon is against plastic.

      Curbside recycling is more sucessful and makes more sense.  People don't hate it, like the bans. 

      If you want to see our future in going down this road then look at Rwanda.  You can go to jail for passing out plastic.  Is this really what you want? 

  3. 1. Plastic bags are not

    1. Plastic bags are not recyclable in Evanston or Chicago. Any resident who recycles would be able to tell you this.

    2. Not all reusable bags are made from China; and the negative environmental impact of reusable bags decreases every year when you continue to use them. 

    3. Plastic and paper bags also leave a carbon footprint in not only the production cycle but during the transportation cycle. 

    1. Bags from home

      Reusable bags have existed for centuries (plastic only since, what, the 1970s?).  And they can be made right in your own home from items that may otherwise be disposed of.  There is a very simple method out there to make bags out of t-shirts, something in such abundance that even thrift stores prefer to sell them to fabric recyclers rather than sell them as clothing to the public.  They are washable with other clothing as well, so there goes that whole "cleanliness" argument.

  4. Propaganda

    I want to reply to the plastics industry's lobbyist's propaganda. Let me say that it is a positive step for him to come out from "working behind the scenes" to convince aldermen that plastic bags are good for the environment (as was reported).   And forgive me for reiterating what I already wrote in a related "NEWS" article posted by Evnaston Now a couple of days ago.

    Everything I have read in technical and scientific papers related to plastic (bags, bottles, etc.) is that although plastic does break down, it never leaves our environment.  When it breaks down into small enough pieces, it is consumed by small creatures, that are ultimatley consumed by larger creatures, and at some point consumed by humans.  Plastic finds its way into the water supply and into our crops, and into our water ways, lakes and oceans.  Surely Evanston Now readers have seen with their own eyes the result of plastic trash in our oceans, shown during the non-stop news coverage of the missing plane thought to have crashed in the Indian Ocean.  Apparently this is true of all of our oceans; there are plastic trash islands.  I also read a report not too long ago about a plastic trash island forming in the northern end of Lake Michigan, (I’ll find the article and send it in to you).

    The plastics industry's lobbyist makes general statements that suggests all environmentalists support the use of plastic bags.  Maybe the plastics industry's lobbyist could supply a list of the environmentalists (names and organizations) that publically support the use of plastic bags.  I don't know of any who would, and I would like to know who is masquerading as an environmentalist in our community.

    The point is not how many plastic bags we see or don't see on our streets and in our trees. One would be too many.  Plastics of any type (plastic bags are not an exception) left to decompose in our environment become part of our environment, part of what we consume, part of our bodies.

    Trash of any type left in our environment is not good.  I certainly don't support paper trash or aluminum trash being tossed about.  The city should create enormously high fines for anyone littering any kind of trash.  My family uses paper bags over and over again until they are no longer usable.  Then we place them in recycling.  We also have reusable bags, most of which do not come from China.  There are poor countries where women and children hand make reusable shopping bags using organic materials (not plastic).  Purchasing those bags helps support their impoverished communities, and HELPS our environment.  However, lets not shift the focus from plastic.

    I do seriously hope that the city council is intellegent enough to avoid being taken in by the plastics industry's lobbyist propaganda posted in "Viewpoint".

  5. plastic bags

    Every time the word ban is mentioned, recycling is put on a pedestal from the plastic industry. Becuase you know, if we all just recyled our bags, brought them back to the store, we wouldn't have a problem. Ugly plastic litter hanging in trees, stuck to fences all along our highways, plastic bits in the great lakes, and animals dying from plastic bag ingestion, it's all my fault. There is no shared responsibilty from the bag makers! If recycling is the solution, where is the public service announcement, the campaign and the education efforts from the bag makers? I like how the bag makers send in their lobbyists to meet with village officials, usually behind close doors or in opinion pieces like this and not during public meetings and convince everyone that recycling is the best curse of action. Recycling is a band aid solution, we need a cure! I would like to ask how the bag makers plan on increasing the recycling rate? The current rate is so low that it is not even worth mentioning. How do they plan on helping the city with this? Also, if recyling is such a success, how come not ALL bags are not made of 100% recycled content? Is it because it is cheaper and easier to make new? How come the city of New York no longer takes plastic bags to recyle? It is because there is absolutely no market value for them! If they were worth anything, the bag makers would be begging us for them back. We would be gathering up every single plastic bag we see on our city steets. And just because a bag gets reused maybe one more time, this does not reduce it's environment impact. As a part of the coalition to get the bag ban in Chicago, let me just say that we were opposed to the fact that paper bags were not addressed and we felt a fee on both paper and plastic was the better option to address the issue. Fees change behaviors. The fee would go directly to the retailer. A consumer could then decide if they wanted a plastic bag or keep the change. It wasn't because we were not interested in banning the plastic bag!!!!!!! A ban was discussed in Chicago nearly 6 years ago. Recycling was discussed then as the solution, but sadly, the rate hardly budged. -activistabby

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