How Much Plastic Does Chicago Use?

  • 2,590 plastic bags are used every minute in Chicago.  (1)
  • The average American uses 500 plastic bags per year.  (1)
  • Chicago’s population was 2,722,389 as of July 1, 2014.
  • That adds up to approximately 3.7 million plastic bags used in Chicago every single day, 2,590 every minute, or 43 every second.

How many plastic bags does the U.S. use?


What’s the Harm in Using Plastic Bags?

  • Plastic bags pollute our cities.  
    • Lightweight and easily airborne, they get caught in trees, litter our roadways and turn our lakes and oceans into plastic soup.
  • Plastic photodegrades into tiny particles that contaminate our food chain as well as water and soil.  (2)
    • Over 663 marine species have been harmed, most through ingestion and entanglement.  (2)
  • Plastic bags are costly.  
    • Cities have to pay to clean up litter from parks, trees, storm drains, etc.  and plastic bags caught in drainage systems can cause disastrous flooding.
    • We pay for these costs in the form of increased taxes and emergency cleanup funds.
  • Plastic bag manufacturing requires the use of nonrenewable fossil fuels – oil or a natural gas byproduct – and emits greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.  The manufacture of plastic bags is not sustainable.
  • Plastic is not necessarily the problem; it’s the throwaway mindset we have fallen into – using a plastic bag for an average of 12 minutes, throwing it away, grabbing a new one to use for 12  minutes, throwing it away, etc.
    • The cost of our single-use plastic epidemic is death and suffering among animals, and plastic ending up in our very own food chain, exposing humans to toxins absorbed by the plastic and a host of other compounds that are dangerous to human health.


How Much Does This Cost the City?

  • Chicago citizens pay at least $40 million each year for plastic bags, indirectly through charges embedded in their grocery bills.  (1)
  • One thing is for certain: plastic bags are costly to us as both consumers and as taxpayers—both in the form of higher prices at retail stores and increased taxes.
  • More money spent on plastic pollution means less money spent on other crucial public services.


How Can We Fix This Problem?

  • We can simply reuse a bag as many times as possible!
  • We can be proactive and reduce pollution at its source.
  • In terms of enacting legislation, there are two options to choose from.
    1. We can ban certain types of plastic bags.  However, this has proven to cause very little effect in changing consumer behavior, as we will continue to “use-and-toss” whatever other bag they receive for “free.” (more information on Plastic Bag Bans)
    2. In order to effectuate change in behavior, we must mandate a minimum charge on all carryout bags distributed at the point of sale.  (more information on Mandated Fees)
  • Overall, we must shift society’s mindset from disposable towards reusable.  This new mindset begins with us, right here, right now.

Have other cities successfully passed plastic bag legislation?  

Are plastic bag fees effective?

What are some arguments against plastic bag legislation?

How much should we charge per plastic bag?

What Can I Do Today to Help?

  • Above all, REUSE YOUR BAGS!  
    • Not just a few times, or even a hundred times: hundreds of times.  The end goal is to find a few durable, washable, reusable bags and to reuse them 300, 400 or even 800 times each.
  • We can change in order to encourage others to change. We can voice our disapproval of the level of plastic bag use we see in our everyday lives. We can become active supporters of reusing bags in order to change the throwaway mindset.  
    • Educate your friends, family, coworkers, anyone(!) on the facts of plastic bag use.  Send them here.
    • Make it clear that a plastic bag ordinance is a necessary part of an ongoing national movement towards sustainability. We need education and legislation to help us make this shift.
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