Gerard to help deliver petitions on state plastic-bag bill
CHAMPAIGN — Mayor Don Gerard will join 12-year-old Abby Goldberg on Tuesday in Chicago as she delivers a petition with more than 150,000 signatures urging Gov. Pat Quinn to veto a plastic-bag waste bill.
Officials will be watching Quinn with interest as a bill that would remove the city's authority to ban plastic bags awaits his signature.
Senate Bill 3442 would prohibit manufacturers from selling plastic bags in Illinois unless that manufacturer is registered with the state and pays a fee to do so.
The legislation would also require manufacturers to submit a plan to support the collection and recycling of those bags.
But after a majority of Champaign City Council members in March supported a per-bag fee on the plastic sacks at retail stores, officials are concerned about another provision of the bill: One that would remove local governments' authority to ban or charge for plastic bags.
"This is a piece of legislation that's just bad," Gerard said. "It has something to offend everyone."
That includes environmentalists who want to see the end of plastic bags, Gerard said, and supporters of small government.
"Whether we put a fee on bags, whether we put a ban on bags or whether we do nothing, it should be our choice," Gerard said.
Environmentalists say the bill is an attempt by the plastic-bag industry to put a stop to the bag bans that are becoming more and more common throughout the country.
"I think that this bill is calling a time out," said Jack Darin, director of the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club. "It's calling a halt to communities like Champaign and Urbana that are interested in innovative strategies to reduce plastic-bag waste."
Darin said recycling programs — like the one established in this bill — are a good first step, but there is no reason to enact legislation to end it there.
"There's no need to handcuff mayors and communities that would like to go beyond that and help make sure that those recycling programs work," Darin said.
In May, the bill passed 38-15 in the state Senate and 72-44 in the House. Both state Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-Champaign, and Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, voted against the legislation.
Plastic-bag manufacturers do not buy the argument that the bill handcuffs local governments. Bag bans do not necessarily prevent litter or save landfill space, said Donna Dempsey, spokesperson for the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a special-interest group that represents manufacturers.
"We are optimistic about this," Dempsey said. "Bans and taxes don't reduce litter. They cost consumers money to buy replacement products if bags are banned."
If Quinn were to sign the bill, that would effectively kill the program Champaign officials were considering. It would become illegal for the city to ban or place a per-bag fee on the plastic bags consumers get when they check out at grocery or retail stores.
Champaign administrative services manager Elizabeth Hannan said city officials are, for now, holding off on further study of the issue and waiting to see what the governor does.
Fifth-grader Goldberg was trying to pass a plastic-bag ban in her hometown of Grayslake as part of a school project before the state Legislature passed the bill. She started an online petition urging Quinn to veto the legislation, and as of Sunday evening, she had collected 153,474 electronic signatures.
Gerard will join her in delivering those signatures to Quinn's Chicago office on Tuesday.