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Illinoisans could get more options for recycling plastic bags

Glencoe 6/23/11
NadiConde left Angelax Diaz wrap clothes dry-cleaned plant friend their boss thwas unaffected by storms  so customers can

Glencoe, 6/23/11 Nadia Conde, left, and Angelax Diaz wrap clothes dry-cleaned at the plant of a friend of their boss that was unaffected by the storms, so customers can get their clothes on time, at Glencoe's Top Cleaners Thursday afternoon. Irv Leavitt~Staff writer

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Updated: July 11, 2012 10:27AM

SPRINGFIELD – Illinoisans could have more options for recycling the plastic bags and film used to carry groceries, cover dry cleaning and deliver newspapers if Gov. Pat Quinn gives a new statewide recycling program his stamp of approval.

But the proposal is derided by cities that typically determine their own waste policies and environmental groups who say the plan lets manufacturers and retailers avoid addressing real problems.

A bill passed in the final minutes of a frantic legislative session last week would require plastic bag and film collection sites to be located within 10 miles of 80 percent of citizens by 2015. It would also require bag manufacturers to register with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and increase the rate of recycled plastic bags and film by 10 percent between 2014 and 2015.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Tryon (R-Crystal Lake) in the House and Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan) in the Senate, the bill stipulates a fine of up to $1,000 for violations. It’s one of many bills Quinn will have to consider after lawmakers worked past their scheduled adjournment deadline last week. A spokeswoman this week gave no indication as to whether Quinn would sign it into law.

However, because it would preempt municipal authorities, the legislation was required to pass with what amounted to veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate, so an outright veto could be risky.

Although the program would technically be the first of its kind nationwide, the state of California recently instituted a similar statewide bag recycling program. Opponents of the Illinois bill said in three years, the California program only yielded a 2 percent increase in plastic bag recycling.

But backers of the legislation said California is a poor comparison because that state did not preempt its local units of government. California instead created a patchwork of rules for recycling that “sucks the critical mass out of the program,” said Rob Karr, senior vice president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, a proponent of the legislation.

Others, however, particularly some environmental groups, say they are skeptical of what they describe as a recycle-heavy approach to curbing plastic litter.

“It’s hard to imagine it’s ever going to solve the problem,” Max Muller, program director of Environment Illinois, said. “You really need policies that ban source reduction.”

Such policies would include plastic bag taxes or outright bans such as those implemented in the cities of Evanston or Champaign, which retailers oppose.

“We don’t think it’s a good idea to ban them,” Karr said. “We don’t think it’s a good idea to tax them. We think this sets up a good middle ground.”

But some environmentalists argue the bill is a way for manufacturers and retailers to head off potential taxes and bans in the near future, insisting increased access to collection facilities will be of little consequence.

“Just by putting a facility within 10 miles of people doesn’t mean they’re going to take their plastic there,” Muller said.

The bill is Senate Bill 3442.

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