Fourteen Recycling and Environmental Groups Urge Quinn to Veto Bag Bill

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Fourteen Recycling and Environmental Groups Urge Quinn to Veto Bag Bill

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Fourteen Recycling and Environmental Groups Urge Quinn to Veto Bag Bill
Friday, August 10, 2012 - 3:30pm

CONTENT: Press Release

(3BL Media) Chicago, IL - August 10, 2012 - Fourteen pro-recycling and environmental groups delivered a letter to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn yesterday evening urging him to veto the Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act (SB 3442), a controversial state senate bill which has received widespread criticism since passing the legislature in May.

The letter argues that the bill's proposed statewide recycling program–-which would increase recycling by just 0.1% over the next half decade–-would do little to reduce waste while locking Illinois into high rates of plastic bag use.
"Business groups want to prevent Illinois cities from doing the bag use reduction programs that are happening in other states," said Jennifer Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council, who signed yesterday's letter. "That's the real goal of this legislation."
Environmental and pro-recycling groups usually strongly support producer-responsibility for creating recycling programs for their products. But given its very weak recycling requirements, this bill appears to primarily be a plastics industry initiative to block Illinois cities from enacting bans or fees on single use plastic shopping bags. Many jurisdictions, including Washington, DC, Los Angeles County, and over 40 cities and counties in California, have implemented such bag use reduction strategies within the last few years.
"The Illinois Recycling Association would support legislation that directly contributes to the recycling of plastic bags and true source reduction," said Paul Jaquet, President of the Illinois Recycling Association, in an April letter urging legislators to oppose the bill. The Illinois Recycling Association was one of two recyling organizations to sign yesterday's letter.
Many local governments in Illinois oppose the bill because it will limit their options for reducing plastic bag litter and waste. Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said in an interview with Chicago's WBEZ radio that he feels his city is "being bullied" out of home rule authority by the plastics industry.
Abby Goldberg, a 12-year-old from Grayslake, received over 160,000 signatures on her petition asking Governor Quinn to veto the bag bill. The Governor personally accepted her petitions at a press conference on July 3 at Chicago's Thompson Center.
"The Governor should bag this bill," said Kerry Brown, Campaign Coordinator at Environment Illinois.
The Governor has until the end of August to decide whether to veto the bill. 



Here is the full text of the letter, as delivered to the Governor yesterday evening.

The Honorable Pat Quinn
Governor, State of Illinois
100 West Randolph, 16th Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60601

August 9, 2012

Dear Governor Quinn,

The Illinois environmental community respectfully asks for a veto of SB3442, the Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act.  This bill bans municipalities from banning, taxing, creating recycling take back programs, or otherwise regulating plastic bags.  If enacted, this would be the most restrictive law in the country banning municipal plastic bag reduction programs.[1]  Illinois has a strong history of upholding home rule authority of local governments, and this bill seeks to preempt home rule in a manner that is inconsistent with the state’s constitutional intent to empower local governments through Section 6 of Article VII of the Illinois Constitution.

Moreover, the proposed statewide plastic bag and film recycling program offered by this act is extremely weak.  If this bill becomes law, the state will see fewer, not more efforts to reduce the number of plastic bags that litter our state or fill landfills.  Illinois should instead continue to allow, and even encourage, municipalities to pursue plastic bag and film use reduction programs and take back programs.

Plastic bag litter is an expensive, dangerous problem across the United States.  Plastic bags do not biodegrade and can become lodged in sewer grates, farm and manufacturing machinery, and other areas causing real economic damage to government and business.[2] 

Many communities have taken action to reduce the number of plastic bags in their communities.  Washington D.C.’s five cent tax on plastic bags has reduced plastic bag usage by over 80%.[3]  In California, state government has banned plastic bag taxes.  In response, over forty local governments in California, including San Francisco and, most recently, L.A. County, have completely banned the use of plastic bags.[4] 

This bill purports to make manufacturers responsible for an increase in the recycling of plastic bags and film through a statewide program.  However, the statewide recycling program proposed by SB3442 is ineffectual for many reasons ranging from the weak goals it sets to weak enforcement if those goals are not met.

First, this bill requires no increase in plastic bag or film recycling until 2015.  While some municipalities are working to tackle this problem this year, the statewide program won’t even begin for two and a half years.  Furthermore, innovation by municipalities would be prohibited until the end of 2017.  

Second, the proposed recycling goals are negligible.  Even after the recycling goals of this bill are met, Illinois would remain far below the national average for the percentage of plastic bags and film recycled.[5]  Using 2009 DCEO numbers, we predict that this bill would only increase recycling of plastic bags and film by 425 tons. Nearly 500,000 tons of plastic bags and film are thrown away each year.  This bill would only increase plastic bag and film recycling by only one tenth of one percent [.1%].[6]  Manufacturers could meet this goal and save themselves money by recycling solely high quality industrial film instead of consumer plastic bags, which can be contaminated with receipts or other trash.  Manufacturers do not need to recycle a single plastic bag to meet the goals of this program.[7] 

Third, the bill proposes to increase collection sites for plastic bags and film.  In addition to requiring sites to be in 90% of Illinois counties by 2014, the bill specifies that collection sites would need to be within 10 miles of 75% of Illinois residents by 2014 and 80% of Illinois residents by 2015.  Many stores, including Wal-Mart, Jewel, Safeway (Dominick’s), and Schnuck’s have corporate policies of offering plastic bag take-back.  Our research shows that it is very likely that all of these goals have already been met for plastic bag collection sites.  

We believe that the amount of plastic bags recycled by this bill is far lower than the amount of bags that would be kept out of the landfill if this bill did not pass.  If a plastic bag tax in a municipality reduced plastic bag usage by at least 75%, our research indicates that if communities representing at least 90,000 people passed plastic bag taxes, more bags would be kept out of the landfill than SB3442 will keep out of landfills.  The city of Champaign alone, with a population of 81,055, would keep almost as many bags out of the landfill as SB3442.  

Finally, we are concerned that plastic bag recycling is not the ultimate solution to the problem.  Recycling plastic bags is challenging.  It is unlikely that plastic bags and film will ever be part of a curbside pickup program because these products can jam machinery and shut down operations. Plastic bag recycling is not economical because of issues with contamination, collection, and the low cost of making new plastic bags.[8]  A similar 2006 statewide plastic bag recycling program in California failed to markedly increase the state’s recycling rate.[9]  Efforts to reduce the use of plastic bags, such as those currently contemplated by Illinois municipalities, are a necessary part of the solution that SB3442 would block.

SB3442 is based on a program in Lake County that aimed to increase plastic bag and film recycling, but with inconclusive results. Because the county lacked baseline data on levels of recycling before the program, the Solid Waste Agency of Lake County (SWALCO) report on the program was largely unable to provide any instructive findings.[10] It cited only a 6 percent increase in plastic bag and film recycling by assuming that 100% of recycling at 6 stores that began to offer recycling during the program wouldn't have been recycled at other stores that already offered recycling. Use reduction strategies such as bans and taxes are much more effective at reducing plastic litter than statewide recycling programs. Even small fees placed on plastic bags consistently yield very high rates of reductions in plastic bag use in jurisdictions where they have been implemented.[11]

Additionally, the fees authorized in SB3442 are not adequate to cover costs to IEPA, placing them under further stress. Under the requirements of this bill, plastic bag manufacturers will need to pay $500 to register and pay the EPA for this program.  There are somewhere between 6 and 12 plastic bag manufacturers that could sell to Illinois.  This would give the IEPA a maximum of $6000 to enforce this program and educate the public about plastic bag and film recycling. This is not enough money to fund the program. Above all other objections that have been raised, the program set out in SB 3342 is not solvent and would further drain critical state resources.

This was a controversial bill in the House and Senate that passed at the last minute.  We are committed to working to help the legislature understand this proposal and voting against a veto override.  We urge you to veto this bill as soon as possible and look forward to working with all stakeholders, including your administration, to resolve Illinois’ critical concern to reduce the waste stream of plastic bags and film in a cost effective, efficient manner.


Max Muller, Program Director, Environment Illinois
Marta Keane, Board President, Illinois Recycling Association
Kathy Tholin, CEO, Center for Neighborhood Technology
Jared Teutsch, Water Policy Advocate, Alliance for Great Lakes
Jen Walling, Executive Director, Illinois Environmental Council
Glynnis Collins, Executive Director, Prairie Rivers Network
Courtney Eccles, Director of Outreach & Policy, Protestants for the Common Good
Mike Nowak, Chicago Recycling Coalition
Rev. Clare Butterfield, Executive Director, Faith in Place
Ellen Rendulich, Director, Citizens Against Ruining the Environment
Rachel Rosenberg, Executive Director, Safer Pest Control Project
Rose Mary Meyer, BVM, Project IRENE
Jack Darin, Director, Illinois Chapter Sierra Club
Henry Henderson, Director, Midwest Program, Natural Resources Defense Council

Sean O’Shea, Office of Governor Patrick Quinn
Kerri Witowski, Office of Governor Patrick Quinn
Eric Heineman, Office of Governor Patrick Quinn

[1], “State and Local Laws,” retrieved from on 8 August 2012.

[2] Odette Yousef, “Illinois plastic bag bill riles environmental groups,” WBEZ 91.5, 8 June 2012, retrieved from on 8 August 2012.

[3] David Nakamura, “District businesses not harmed by bag tax,” The Washington Post, 24 February 2011, retrieved from on 8 August 2012.

[4] Miguel Llanos, “LA becomes largest US city to ban plastic bags,” MSNBC, 23 May 2012, retrieved from on 8 August 2012.

[5] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Just the Facts,” Plastics, 24 July 2012, retrieved from on 8 August 2012.

[6] The recycling rate, as defined by the bill, increases from 4.2% to 4.7%, or from 3,400 to 3825 tons – an increase of 425 tons. Dividing the increased tonnage by total plastic film tonnage yields an increase of .1%, since 425/400,000 = .1%.

[7] To meet this rate, manufacturers do not need to recycle any additional plastic bags since they can recycle .1% of the 400,000 tons of film landfilled each year.

[8] Robb Krehbiel, Environment Washington Research and Policy Center, “A Solution Not in the Bag,” p. 8-10, January 2012, retrieved from 20Not%20in%20the% 20Bag.pdf on 8 August 2012.

[9] Sarah Sikich and Kirsten James, “Averting the Scourge of the Seas: Local and State Efforts to Prevent Plastic Marine Pollution,” p. 38, Urban Coast, 1 November 2010, retrieved from on 8 August 2012.

[10] The Solid Waste Agency of Lake County, Illinois, “Report to the Illinois General Assembly Pursuant to P.A. 95-0268,” May 2010, retrieved from on 8 August 2012.

[11] The experience in seven jurisdictions that implemented fees ranging from $.03 to $.30 is a reduction in bag use ranging from 60% to 95%. Data comes from the San Francisco Office of Economic Analysis, “Checkout Bag Charge: Economic Impact Report,” 30 November 2011, retrieved from on 8 August 2012.


Keywords: Environment | Environment | Illinois | Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act | Plastic bags | Recycling | The Illinois Recycling Association | pro-recycling groups

CONTENT: Press Release