Chicagoans make the best of a bag situation

Discussion
Aug 04, 2015

In the interest of protecting the environment and ridding the sidewalks and parking lots of discarded plastic grocery bags, the city of Chicago decided to ban stores from using plastic grocery bags beginning August 1. Despite the slight personal inconvenience, I appreciate the gesture. According to the cashiers I’ve spoken to, I appear to be handling it better than many other Chicagoans.

The ordinance applies to stores larger than 10,000 square feet, with smaller stores having to comply in the coming year. Because of the way the law is written, retailers are still able to offer thicker plastic bags that technically comply. However, according to WGN, two aldermen are pushing to have an amendment that outlaws the thicker bags, as well.

The change in the stores I have visited since the law went into effect has been noticeable. On the first day, as I entered into my always-packed neighborhood mom-and-pop, I noticed an unfamiliar — though strangely comforting — noise. I recognized after a moment it was the crinkling of paper bags, something I hadn’t realized was missing from my shopping experience. Likewise, when I checked out, something felt friendlier about having my groceries bagged in paper.

Chicago plastic bag ban=

Photo: RetailWire

The mom-and-pop is also offering thicker plastic bags at checkout for 10 cents (billed as being reusable), as well as 99-cent reusable canvas shopping bags. Having never really thought to use reusable grocery bags, seeing them there on display (and having no other option) has gotten me warmed up to the idea. So the theory behind the law seems to be working, at least for me. As for how the rest of the customer base has been handling it, at least two cashiers told me that people are not happy, to say the least.

Over at Walgreens the thicker, law-skirting "reusable" bags are free — no 10 cent charge attached. The cashier there told me that she had already found four or five of the new, thicker plastic bags floating around in the parking lot. Change doesn’t come easy.

Do you support or oppose citywide bans on thin plastic bags? How can retailers turn such bans into an advantage for their stores?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Washington DC and some of its surrounding ’burbs decided to charge a nickel for each plastic bag, and the results have been stunning. Everyone griped at first, but quickly got into the habit of using reusable bags; the condition of our rivers improved significantly. Such a small thing can make a big impact."
"First, I am totally with Matthew on this one! Ban them. Ban them all! Now then ... I’ve always followed the rule that you paint your problems in bright colors. What if ... there was a way to instantly print a picture of the customer, or a picture brought in by the customer, on one of the heavier reusable plastic bags?"
"Envisioning renegade plastic bags flying through the streets of the Windy City paints an ugly picture. Accordingly I think this is the right call."

Join the Discussion!

17 Comments on "Chicagoans make the best of a bag situation"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Cathy Hotka
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Washington DC and some of its surrounding ‘burbs decided to charge a nickel for each plastic bag, and the results have been stunning. Everyone griped at first, but quickly got into the habit of using reusable bags; the condition of our rivers improved significantly. Such a small thing can make a big impact.

Tony Orlando
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Doesn’t the city of Chicago have better things to do? Crime is rampant and they are worried about a plastic bag ban, and stores are finding ways to get around it already. What a waste of time and energy, and I don’t see how stores are going to make a play out of this for their advantage. Maybe they can plant some trees in the parking lot.

Ian Percy
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

First, I am totally with Matthew on this one! Ban them. Ban them all!

Now then …

I’ve always followed the rule that you paint your problems in bright colors. What if … there was a way to instantly print a picture of the customer, or a picture brought in by the customer, on one of the heavier reusable plastic bags? There could be several slogans like “I heart Walgreens” or over a picture of your beloved dog you have “Please buy me a treat!” Or over a picture of your toddler: “l’m growing up healthy with Walgreens.” People tend to not throw away things with their name or picture on it. Do this right and the bag can actually increase sales EG. How dare you return home without a treat for the dog? You do know your dog can read.

There’s got to be a machine that would do this, and chances are good the customer would even pay a dollar to get one.

David Livingston
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

I support it where needed. Aldi has required customers to bring their own bag or purchase one for decades now and its worked out quite nicely for them. Most stores just give away resusable bags. Foodland in Hawaii is well known for their unique designs and tourists buy them for souvenirs. My advice, make your bag a souvenir people want to have.

Mark Heckman
Guest
6 years 9 months ago
Envisioning renegade plastic bags flying through the streets of the Windy City paints an ugly picture. Accordingly I think this is the right call. My hope is that the city worked with the retailers in advance, so they could plan to provide alternatives. It would appear most have. Retailers are going to continually be pressed to find more eco-friendly solutions not only for shopping bags, but also newsprint for circulars, which are at least as likely to clutter the streets of the city as they are mis-delivered each week. Certainly, digital advertising has arrived in the nick of time for many. Back to bags. Most retailers have developed their own re-usable bags as an alternative. Innovative merchants have used these bags as rewards, (free bag with $25 order) or tools for promotion (e.g., 10 percent of everything in the bag) and benefit from the residual advertising they provide when used for other purposes outside the store. So goodbye to the dreaded disposable plastic bag. I will not miss them tearing open in the parking lot… Read more »
Ben Ball
Guest
6 years 9 months ago
Plastic bags and six pack rings rank right behind loss of habitat as a threat to our wildlife. Normally I am not for banning “things.” I am however, very much a proponent of punishing people who misuse things. My household has been using plastic bags and buying six packs of canned whatever for over thirty years and, to the best of my knowledge, not one has ever escaped the recycling bin. But we also have to weigh cost/benefit. Tony O. is right, the Chicago police have more important things to do than police bag bans. And of course they won’t spend one ounce of energy enforcing this one. So what’s the benefit of disposable plastic bags vs. paper? We wound up with plastic bags for two reasons. They were cheaper, and we were “saving trees.” Whether we use petroleum or wood pulp, both forms of bag are recyclable if we just make the effort. And it won’t be long until you see lots of paper bags blowing around if they are available. People who will… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
6 years 9 months ago
First, I think retailers need to rethink their occasional opposition to banning plastics. I’ve become used to carrying canvas bags to the supermarket because my favorite grocer uses handled paper bags with terrible handles which rip off and tear over half the time. The bags are used because they are “sourced in Michigan” despite the fact that the store’s owner agrees they are inferior and have caused innumerable orders of high margin groceries to pour all over his lot, leaving plastic the logical choice. Of course this means every item — or maybe two items — gets its own plastic bag which means a weekly family shopping trip can generates dozens of bags. Canvas bags are the only defense. But … wait … they really work well. I’m happier and the supermarket owner is saving a small fortune on bags. So … where were we … oh yeah … go ahead ban those plastic bags. There will be less litter, fewer resources used, the environment will benefit, costs will go down through effective customer education… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

From a retailer operations perspective, elimination of a “supply” expense replaced by the creation of a newer revenue source (reusable bags) is not a bad thing. From a shopper view, it may be an initial inconvenience, however other cities have made this work. From an environmental perspective, I still believe cities have far bigger sustainability (we used to call it “pollution”) challenges to face than plastic shopping bags.

Tom Redd
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Oppose for sure. Let people make the choice. Paper or plastic. How can people in Chicago pick up after dogs? Not with a paper bag. It is just that laws are too many and people should decide. Too many laws, people. Too many laws.

P.S.: Retailers can turn this whole mess into an advantage. Logo’d bags, nice paper bags, and paper bags for other stuff — create a new look and line of branded specialty bags — banana bags, etc.

Arthur Rosenberg
Guest
Arthur Rosenberg
6 years 9 months ago

The real culprits are the many pathetic folks who can’t manage to discard used bags in the trash rather than on streets, highways and parking lots. Many Europeans have been arriving at stores with reusable bags for generations and are surprised when they learn that most Americans don’t. Aldi comes from this tradition. Aldi also offers shoppers the option of carrying off purchases in the many cartons which the store has set aside for this purpose and essentially discarded.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
6 years 9 months ago

Amazing how long it has taken for at least some cities to ban plastic bags. Many plastic bags not only strangle and get ingested by wildlife, they also degrade into teeny, tiny pieces that eventually float downstream and into lakes or oceans (Pacific garbage patch, anyone?).

But many of us stick to “Don’t tell me what to do!” regardless of the problems we are causing, short and long-term. Next thing you know, that that darn government will want to do something about climate change! Don’t they have better things to do, like lock up criminals?

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
6 years 9 months ago

“If we are going to have a ban on containers for people to carry things out of stores … ” This is an absolutely fantastic summary of what is happening. Thanks Ben. Was it only yesterday this retail forum was discussing how to give customers a pleasant experience at checkout? And don’t we regularly talk here about how to encourage people to shop in brick-and-mortar shops so our downtowns and neighborhoods can remain viable and with occupied storefronts in the face of online shopping (where the bag ban is not an issue)? The city of Chicago is not the same as a suburb where people like me can drive around with a trunk full of reusable shopping bags in my car. Like so many well-intentioned social engineering attempts this unfortunate “bag ban” will have profound unintended consequences that I’m sure we’ll be discussing here in future installments of RetailWire.

Paul Sikkema
Guest
Paul Sikkema
6 years 9 months ago

I usually agree with Tony, but not today. Having lived 50 miles south of Chicago for 30 years I feel it is one of the best things Chicago has done and may actually help to clean up the city in years to come.

Chicago hauls most of their garbage 50 to 100 miles away. The fences that mark Interstate 55 and old Highway 30 and the other roadways those trucks travel on are lined with plastic bags. Yes, they have tried to contain the bags in the semis but they still creep out.

A cleaner city is a major step to creating a world class city with less crime. And yes, a few more trees in parking lots will help replace the magnificent elm and ash trees that have been killed by foreign invaders in the last 30 years.

Patrick Sill
Guest
Patrick Sill
6 years 9 months ago

Disposable plastic bags are a destructive environmental menace. It is time for all of us to move beyond this “convenience” and be responsible world citizens.

Warren Thayer
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

I support a ban on thin and “thick” plastic bags, period. We’re talking about a non-renewable resource and it’s high time we take some responsibility. A ban went into effect in Hawaii on July 1, but has run into trouble. No easy answers. Maybe a $1 deposit on bags, with shoppers getting it back when they’re returned. Not sure how you’d prevent counterfeiting bags for “return,” but something along that line might work.

Joan Treistman
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Rather than focus on the close in implications of eliminating thin plastic bags, I’d like to broaden the view. Once we are engaged in behavior specifically directed towards our environment, I think we will be sensitive and more likely to try out other eco-friendly behavior.

What Chicago is doing is not uncommon; for instance in California, using seat belts all the time was objected to by many. Often when we change our behavior, our attitude changes as well. It doesn’t happen immediately.

I think a citywide ban on plastic bags (thin or thick) can be good for the environment, the city, and ultimately retailers if they focus on positive outcomes and communicate with their customers.

Ed Gilstrap
Guest
Ed Gilstrap
6 years 9 months ago

Let’s all start using fabric bags. Put meat and fish in it today. Next trip fill it with veggies. Every once in a while put in something that leaks. Keep them in the trunk of your car.
When your middle school son or daughter needs a science experiment suggest they test the bags for bacteria.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Washington DC and some of its surrounding ’burbs decided to charge a nickel for each plastic bag, and the results have been stunning. Everyone griped at first, but quickly got into the habit of using reusable bags; the condition of our rivers improved significantly. Such a small thing can make a big impact."
"First, I am totally with Matthew on this one! Ban them. Ban them all! Now then ... I’ve always followed the rule that you paint your problems in bright colors. What if ... there was a way to instantly print a picture of the customer, or a picture brought in by the customer, on one of the heavier reusable plastic bags?"
"Envisioning renegade plastic bags flying through the streets of the Windy City paints an ugly picture. Accordingly I think this is the right call."

Take Our Instant Poll

How likely is it that a substantial number of major U.S. cities will adopt plastic bag bans within the next five years?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...