Anti-Plastic Advocates Defend Cost of Chicago’s Proposed Single-Use Ban


Chicago aldermen on Wednesday proposed a ban on single-use plastics and Styrofoam containers in an effort to cut down on plastic pollution, especially in area waterways.

The ordinance would require that restaurants and other businesses that sell prepared food use compostable or recyclable containers and allow customers to bring their own cups.

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“We want to target these single-use plastics and foam products because we use them for a very short amount of time … but then they exist in our environment and our community for centuries,” said Abe Scarr, state director of Illinois PIRG, one of the organizations that worked on the proposal.

After the plan was introduced, the Illinois Restaurant Association said it’s supportive of voluntary efforts to reduce waste, but warned of potential cost impacts on businesses.

“Restaurants face massive legislative and regulatory burdens – such as a higher minimum wage, paid sick leave, and Fair Workweek rules – that result in average profit margins that are already pennies on the dollar,” IRA President and CEO Sam Toia said in a statement. “Any proposed regulations on plastics need to consider the additional financial hardships that will be placed on operators and implications for safety and sanitation, customer requests, drive-through areas, medical necessity of plastic food-ware and other considerations.”

Scarr said the ordinance already accounts for financial hardship and the needs of customers with disabilities. “Let’s not pretend that there are not other costs that we’re paying for right now. We pay for this when we pay for our trash pickup. We pay for this through our recycling, and through the failure of our recycling system. We pay for this in the litter that we have to clean up. Ultimately the question is, what do we value? Do we value having a community that is not overrun by plastic pollution?”

And while Scarr acknowledges plastic pollution can’t be tackled by an ordinance like this alone, he says it’s key to addressing the problem at the source.

“Twenty-two million pounds of plastics are going into the Great Lakes every single year,” he said. “We’re finding plastic particles in the water we drink and the food we eat. We can’t recycle our way out of the problem.”


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