Updated 06/18/13 – 1:26 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Aldermen heard from environmental groups and local retailers Tuesday, at a hearing Tuesday on a proposed ban on plastic shopping bags.

Chicago would become the biggest city to ban plastic grocery bags if the measure is approved. The City Council Committee on Health & Environmental Protection was holding a hearing on the proposal Tuesday at City Hall.

CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports the proposal by Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) would require all stores in the city to provide customers with reusable bags instead. While those bags could be made of plastic, they would have to be much thicker than traditional plastic grocery bags.

All reusable bags provided by stores would have to be designed to be used at least 125 times, be large enough to carry at least 22 pounds, be machine washable or made from material that can be cleaned or disinfected, and have a label or permanent tag with the manufacturer’s name.

Stores would be allowed to charge customers for reusable bags. Customers also would be allowed to bring in bags of their own, rather than using the bags provided by the store.

WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports aldermen heard from teenager Abby Goldberg, whose petition drive persuaded Gov. Pat Quinn to veto legislation requiring plastic bag manufacturers to set up collection and recycling programs.

Environmental groups claimed the law would have had minimal effect, and local communities could do more by passing their own laws regarding plastic bags.

“Plastic bags were once an easy choice. Bags are made to be disposable; used once and thrown away, with no thought to the consequences. Nice for a while, wasn’t it? Oops, now we have a problem with that choice,” Goldberg said.

Tanya Triche, senior counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, called the proposed ban a tax on retailers, because they would have to spend more money for paper bags or reusable bags for customers.

However, she said retailers are split on the effectiveness of banning plastic bags. Some like the recycling measures now in place.

“They recycle their own goods. They want to encourage their consumers to recycle. They like providing the option,” she said. “But then you have other retailers … who are operating in California and some of these other places, who actually say that banning the plastic bags – along with a fee that goes to the retailer for paper bags – does reduce waste as well.”

The proposed ordinance notes plastic grocery bags are not biodegradable, and end up contaminating the soil and waterways.

Moreno claimed the average person uses 500 plastic grocery bags each year, adding up to 3.7 million plastic bags citywide every day, or 1.3 billion a year.

“These petroleum-based, one-use bags simply cannot be recycled; and if they can be, it’s a low percentage,” Moreno said.

If the measure were approved, the ban would go into effect four months later, and stores that continue to use plastic grocery bags would face fines of $150 to $250 for each violation. Those that don’t provide reusable bags would fines of $50 to $150 for each day they are found in violation.

The committee planned to vote on some form of plastic bag ordinance at its next meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.

Aldermen considered a similar ban in 2008, but instead opted for an expanded recycling program for plastic bags.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association has said it will oppose the ban, claiming paper bags cost three times as much as plastic bags.

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