Chicago's new plastic bag ban could cut into Wheeling company's bottom line
Chicago's ban on plastic bags took effect Aug. 1, and a Wheeling-based plastic company could see a decline in business because of it.
Aargus Plastics Inc. and its Chicago sister company Bio Star Films both made the plastic bags used at, among other places, Binny's Beverage Depot locations in Chicago.
The five Chicago Binny's locations used an average 27,100 plastic bags every week.
But in light of the ban, Binny's switched to a new bag manufacturer that produces compostable bags made of cornstarch, something Aargus and Bio Star don't have the equipment to make.
Scott Starr, Arlington Heights resident and president of Aargus and Biostar, says about 35 percent of the two companies' business is in Chicago. He did not say what that means from a revenue standpoint.
"A lot of city stores are going to be changing manufacturers," Starr said. "If our business slows down because of the ban, we're not going to need as many employees."
But bigger manufacturing companies like Novolex, which has a plant in Alsip, were able to invest in new equipment to make more bags that comply with the law.
"It was a major commitment that is nearly impossible for smaller companies to do," said Novolex's Senior Director of Sustainability Phil Rozenski.
The company invested $1 million in new machinery, equipment modifications and employee training to produce new bags that are stronger and thicker, and therefore more likely to be reused. The city set a thickness standard for allowable plastic bags.
"It's a very scary investment with a high risk," Rozenski said.
The plastic bag ban, passed by the city council after a campaign led by Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno, applies to stores larger than 10,000 square feet and chain stores of any size.
Starr says he thinks the ban is a way for Moreno to gain popularity and look good in the next election.
And Neal Blair, director of Northwestern University's Environmental Science, Engineering and Policy Program, says banning plastic bags may not have the impact proponents believe it will.
"If you didn't get in a car every day, you would have a bigger impact than not using plastic bags," Blair said.
The problem with plastic bags, Blair says, isn't the space they take up in landfills or their "unsightly appearance" on the streets.
"The most compelling argument against the bags is found in the recycling centers," Blair said. "They come in and gum up everything, and the machines have to be cleaned every day."
Starr says that Aargus is responsible when it comes to handling plastic and recycles about 20 tons of it every day.
"I think the public is just ignorant about this -- there's a lot more plastic than just bags," Starr said. "You walk out of the grocery store with one plastic bag, but there are other plastic containers in that bag."
As the ban rounds out its first week, the effect on bag manufacturers isn't yet clear.
"Financially, it's still a little early to tell," Starr said.