Illinois Governor Pat Quinn vetoed the Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act (SB 3442); a controversial state senate bill that passed the legislature in May, and was the source of much contention as it limited local home rule authority to implement solutions to reduce plastic bag litter.
Referred to as the “bag bill,” SB 3442 was a wolf in sheep’s clothing used by the plastic industry. While it appeared to be a state-wide recycling program, it actually used Illinois as a testing ground to pass the nation’s most restrictive law prohibiting municipalities from implementing plastic bag reduction programs—programs that are successfully reducing waste issues in cities across the country. Governor Pat Quinn didn’t let that happen, nor did Abby Goldberg, the 13 year old from Grayslake, Illinois who collected nearly 175,000 petitions using Change.org urging Governor Quinn to veto the bag bill. Dear Abby, thank you for voicing your concerns and advocating for the environment so effectively.
The problem with the bag bill: it set extremely weak recycling goals by increasing state-wide recycling by a meager one tenth of one percent (0.1%) over the next half decade while limiting local governments across the state (with the exception of Chicago) from establishing programs of their own to address plastic bag litter. Such programs could include a possible tax or fee on single-use plastic bags, which have the effect of incentivizing reusable, multi-use containers. Other actions limited by the bag bill include bans on plastic bags themselves—an effective means to reduce waste from the origin.
Plastic bag litter is becoming an expensive problem in Illinois and throughout the nation. Local governments are typically left to foot the bill in dealing with the prolific source of plastic bag pollution when they clog our drains, litter our streets and get caught in trees. However, business groups argue that it is too costly and a nuisance to conform to the patchwork of policies that exist when cities or local governments decide to innovate their own solutions. The question shouldn’t be cost versus the environment because there is an external cost to the environment that is not accounted for. Local governments should maintain the right to come up with their own unique set of solutions based upon their specific needs.
By vetoing the bag bill, Governor Pat Quinn took a stand for the environment and a stand for communities across Illinois. It was a brave move and, it was the right move. NRDC will be calling on members of the General Assembly come November to uphold Governor Quinn’s veto during the legislature’s annual fall veto session—and we will work with groups that are interested in developing meaningful solutions to address solid waste, recycling, plastic bag and film issues that plague our environment.