Lake County Board adopts policy banning single-use plastics by 2023

In what was described as a small but important step, the Lake County Board on Tuesday adopted a policy banning the use of single-use plastics at its operations by Jan. 1, 2023.

How exactly that will be done is yet to be determined. But the action is seen as a means to reduce the reliance on plastic and serve as a model for others.

"We're limited in our authority, but we are one of the first counties in the country to do this," said county board member Jessica Vealitzek of Hawthorn Woods. "We have a template now - take it and use it."

Vealitzek led the initiative as a member of the county board's energy and environment committee. The panel has been studying the issue for some time and recommended approval after a staff analysis with options.

The policy applies to single-use plastics associated with eating and drinking and is focused on the cafeteria at the county administrative building in downtown Waukegan and vending machines there and in other locations, such as the division of transportation in Libertyville.

"With the approval today, our team is now going to move forward on working to further analyze the locations and options to meet the January 2023 date," county spokesman Alex Carr said.

Under the policy, items including cutlery, coated paper plates, beverage bottles, to-go containers, lids, straws, shopping or storage bags and plastic wrap would no longer be purchased, sold or distributed at facilities under the authority of the county board.

Facilities of independently elected county offices, such as the clerk or sheriff, are not covered by the ban, though county officials are encouraged to reduce the purchase or use of plastics in all forms.

"If we can set an example and rely less on plastics every day, then we should take those steps," Vealitzek said.

The resolution authorizing the policy includes a dozen facts about plastics. It notes 11 million pounds of plastic waste enter Lake Michigan each year, more than any other Great Lakes body.

"That's an astonishing number," said county board member Paul Frank of Highland Park. "We have a unique responsibility to be leaders on this front" as one of two Illinois counties on Lake Michigan, he said.

Half the 300 million tons of plastic produced worldwide annually is used for single-use items "thrown out within minutes," such as bottles, straws and wrappers, the resolution notes.

An analysis by Resource Recycling Systems provided three options on how the county could proceed. The resolution approved Tuesday aligns with a suggestion to replace plastic items with compostable items as much as possible.

"This is just a drop in the bucket, but it's an important drop," Vealitzek said.

Energy and environment committee member John Wasik of Grayslake said the single-use plastics policy is part of an overall climate action plan being pursued by the county.

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