Blog

Introducing the Plastic-Free Water Ordinance

By Abe Scarr
State Director

Along with coalition partners, Illinois PIRG joined Alderman Scott Waguespack this week to introduce the Plastic-Free Water Ordinance in Chicago. The ordinance would eliminate foam containers, and reduce the use of single-use plastics in food service in Chicago. More work will need to be done to address our plastic pollution problem, and Chicago's poor recycling performance, but the ordinance is a critical, long-overdue, step in the right direction.

Every year, 22 million pounds of plastic enter the Great Lakes, mostly into Lake Michigan. Instead of biodegrading, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, "microplastics," which have been found in fish guts, drinking water, and even beer. Plastic composes 80 percent of the litter on Great Lake shorelines, and 50 percent in the Chicago River.

Worldwide, the vast majority of plastic is not recycled. When it is, it degrades into lower quality plastic, meaning that over time all plastic will end up in landfills or incinerators, or as pollution in our oceans, waterways and communities. Because there are so many different types of plastic, some our local recycling system is set up to manage, others not, plastics contaminate our recycling stream, making it less likely we capture the value of other materials.

We can't recycle our way out of our plastic pollution problem.

I went on to Chicago Tonight this week to discuss the ordinance.

We're excited to be working with a great coalition to pass the ordinance, including the Illinois Environmental Council, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Chicago Recycling Coalition, Alliance for the Great Lakes and Friends of the Chicago River. Along with Alderman Waguespack, 18 other Alderman co-sponsored the ordinance upon introduction.

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