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Plastic Bag Recycling Frequently Asked Questions

General Ordinance Requirements

What is required by this ordinance?

The plastic bag recycling ordinance requires businesses that provide plastic bags to customers to do the following:

1.       Print or display on every plastic carryout bag: (i) “Please Reuse Or Recycle At Participating Store” using letters at least ½ inch in height; or (ii) a similar message encouraging the reuse or recycling of plastic carryout bags that is no less than 1 inch in height and uses letters at least ¼ inch in height;

2.       Provide a bin for the collection of plastic bags and other film plastic that is visible and easily accessible to customers;

3.       Make reusable bags available at or near where plastic carryout bags are dispensed.  Reusable means (1) a bag made of cloth or other machine washable fabric with handles or (2) a durable plastic bag with handles that is at least 1.15 mils thick and specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse;

4.       Recycle or reuse any plastic bags collected;

5.       Submit an annual report to the Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection (BACP) each year providing the weight, location and cost for recycling the plastic bags.

My retail/wholesale business is less than 5,000 sq ft; does the ordinance still apply to me?
Yes, the ordinance still applies to your business. There is no exemption based on size.  The 5,000 sq ft threshold was for when the ordinance was implemented and as of March 11, 2009, the ordinance took effect for all businesses.

I only give out a few bags a week; does the ordinance still apply to me?
Yes.  There is no exemption for the quantity of bags handed out.  If you hand out plastic bags to your customers and meet the definition of a retail or wholesale establishment, this ordinance applies to you.

Customers do not bring any bags back to my store. Do I still have to provide a container?
Yes, a container must still be provided.  The ordinance requires you to provide the container regardless if it is used or not.

What does the container have to look like? Where can I get the bin/container for the bags? Is a cardboard box ok?
The only requirement for the container is that it is placed in a location easily visible to the customer and clearly labeled. There are no requirements as to the size or type of container.  You can ask your waste hauler for a container if you do not have one that you can use.

I don’t have enough space to fit a container to collect plastic bags and/or film.  Do I have to have one?
Yes. There are no exemptions to this requirement due to lack of space.

I am a retail or wholesale establishment but I do not handout plastic bags; does the ordinance still apply to me?
No. The ordinance does not apply to businesses that do not hand out or provide plastic bags for their customers.

I’m a fast food restaurant; does this ordinance apply to me?
No. This ordinance does not apply to fast food restaurants or other types of food service establishments. It’s meant for stores that sell food not for immediate consumption.

I’m a small pharmacy, does this apply to me?
Yes, if 25% or more of gross sales include prescription or non-prescription medicines and you hand out plastic bags to customers.

Who can I contact for additional information?
Please email the Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection (BACP) at bacpbagrecycling@cityofchicago.org if you have questions.

Recycling Questions

Does the City provide the bins and recycle the bags that are collected?
No, the City does not provide the recycling bins or collect the bags for recycling. Businesses must provide their own bins and contract with a private recycler to recycle the bags.

Where can I take the bags to for recycling?
One option is to first contact your current waste and recycling hauler as they may allow you to include plastic bags in what you are already recycling.  Not all haulers accept this material so it is important to check with them first.

Other options are to go to www.plasticbagrecycling.org, which allows you to search for recyclers based on your location and how much you expect to generate or go to the A- Z List of Recycling Opportunities.

Can I put the bags in with my trash?
No. The ordinance requires that the bags be recycled.

Can I put the bags in with my other recyclables?
It depends on your recycler.  Please call them first to confirm that this is ok before placing any bags with your other recyclables.

Can I bring the bags to a grocery story or pharmacy?
Although most large grocery stores and pharmacies have a recycling program in place, they have done so at their own expense and it is for their customers. Each business is responsible for recycling the plastic bags they collect.

Can I bring the bags home for recycling?
Neither the City’s Blue Cart curbside recycling program nor the drop-off boxes accept plastic bags.   If you are serviced by a private hauler, please contact them first. In addition, if you live in a condo or apartment building, you should ask your building management first.

 

Annual Reporting Form Questions

When is the report due?
The report is due the last day of February of each year following the reporting year. 

Do I have to get the form notarized?

Yes, unless one of the following applies to your business:

1.       Plastic bags are not handed out to customers

2.       Your business does not meet the definition of a retail or wholesale establishment

3.       Someone else (such as a corporate office or headquarters) is submitting the report on your behalf

I only receive a few bags back and reuse them.  Is that ok and if so, how do I fill out the form?
Yes, that is ok.  Please still fill out the form and in Part 3, you can write ‘0’ but also note that all bags returned are reused.

Do I still have to report if customers don’t bring any plastic bags back to my store?
Businesses are only required to offer the option for customers to bring the bags back.  If no one does, that is ok; however, you must still submit an annual report.  On the form, you can write ‘0’ in Part 3 and also note that no bags were brought back.

How do you determine the weight of plastic bags recycled?
If you have contracted with a private recycler, ask them for the weight.  Due to the light weight of bags and the small quantities that may be collected for recycling by small businesses, BACP understands this may have to be an estimate.

Are you asking for the cost of buying the plastic bags?
No, you are required to report on the cost to recycle the bags that you collected, not how much it cost to buy them.

Do I report the weight of plastic bags used or handed out?
No, you should only report on the weight of plastic bags recycled.

What if the cost to recycle the plastic bags and/or film is included in my overall waste and/or recycling bill?
If possible, please estimate the cost associated with recycling plastic bags and/or film only; however, if this cannot be done, you can indicate on the report what other services are included in the reported amount. 

Will I have to fill this out every year?
Yes, this is an annual requirement for all businesses regulated by the ordinance.  Even if your business reported in previous years that it does not meet the definition of a retail or wholesale establishment and/or does not hand out plastic carryout bags to customers, if you receive an annual report from BACP to complete, failure to submit may result in an inspection.