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.
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.