Weather Updates

Much better alternatives to plastic bags and bottles


Share your views with us without sharing your name. The Courier-News SpeakOut line at 630-978-8345.

Updated: January 10, 2014 6:26AM

Much better alternatives to plastic bags and bottles

Bags and bottles and cans — wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have these things around everywhere? Did you know some countries and coastal cities have banned bags? Jokingly, one city referred to plastic bags as the capital flower because there were so many up in the trees before it enacted a ban.

Aluminum cans are great and can be recycled almost indefinitely. But plastic bags are minimally “recycled”; and that means they have to be formed into a final product that cannot be recycled, such as a bench, a picnic table or bumper guards for parking lots. That’s what they call “downcycling.”

Drinking water bottles are worse. Did you know that the water you buy in bottles is, 40 percent of the time, just tap water? Public water supplies are tested more often than bottled water! It’s really safer. And Elgin has award-winning tap water.

The cost of one gallon of water in bottles is more than that for gasoline. If you drink eight glasses of bottled water a day, it will run you $1,400 a year, but tap water will only cost you 50 cents. That’s less than the cost for a single bottle of water.

And at 60 million plastic water bottles used each day in the U.S. alone, that’s a big mess we are leaving! These are recycled no better than plastic bags, with similar results. Plastic bags and plastic water bottles can last 500 to 1,000 years or more in a landfill. And the recycle rates are around 25 percent at best. We all know where the rest are — streets, gutters, shrub collectors, lawns, streams and landfills.

And it’s so unnecessary. Just get a bottle or two from a drugstore or big box store, and fill it up in the morning. I get one with a handle for easy carrying when walking, and one that fits in the car when I am driving.

We all have lots of cloth bags, and if you leave them in the backseat of your car or trunk, they will always be handy when you go shopping!

Do yourself a favor, do the right thing for your kids and grandkids and planet Earth, and just say NO to plastic bags and water bottles. It’s much easier than you think. And pick up those aluminum cans when you see them — they always can be recycled, and the energy savings is 90 percent compared to making a new one.

We can always do better. We are trying!

Sandy Kaptain


Illinois tollway speed limits are dangerously low

The headline is not a typo. Interstate speed limits that are too low are dangerous, and the speed limits on metro Chicago tollways such as I-88, I-294 and I-355 fit this description.

Transportation engineers worldwide almost unanimously advocate posting speed limits based on the free-flowing 85th percentile speed. This is the speed below which 85 percent of cars actually travel when not impeded by traffic or heavy visible enforcement. The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) has published a report that explains how this method works, why it works, and the dangers of not using it.

As to the dangers, the ITE says this: “Drivers traveling significantly faster OR SLOWER than the 85th percentile speed are at a greater risk of being in a crash.” So what is the 85th percentile speed in metro Chicago?

The free-flowing 85th percentile speeds on suburban Chicago Interstates is estimated by experts at the National Motorists Association to be at or above the new statutory maximum of 70 mph in most areas. This is obvious to many area commuters and can be proven relatively easily. To test this estimate, one of my colleagues and I did some sample speed studies recently on I-80, I-88 and I-294. We clocked 521 cars and found the 85th percentile speed was about 72 mph in all locations. Many state transportation departments would post a speed limit of 70 on these roads.

We also noted that of the 521 vehicles observed, only 21 were in compliance with the 55 mph speed limit. These 21 drivers followed the letter of the law but posed a much greater risk to themselves, and others, compared to drivers cruising at the pace of most other vehicles.

What sense is there in a law that mandates dangerous behavior?

Sen. Jim Oberweis and I testified to this effect at a recent Illinois Tollway Board meeting, as well as a follow-up session with tollway engineers. We went so far as to say that it would be negligent to keep limits low, but it’s not yet clear whether the tollway leadership’s opposition to raising Chicago-area speed limits will change.

In view of the danger of driving 55 mph on area roadways, the Illinois Tollway Authority is endangering those who trust and follow the law. Please write to the Tollway Authority and to Illinois Department of Transportation and tell them that, for the sake of safety, the speed limit should be increased to 70 mph in suburban Chicago.

Steve Doner, Wheaton

Former Illinois Chapter
coordinator and life member,
National Motorists Association

Editor’s note: The letter below, by Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur, was written in response to the above letter by Steve Doner as published elsewhere. Because Lafleur’s letter arrived before we published Doner’s letter, we decided to print them together.

Tollway already set to change some speed limits

A recent letter to the editor suggests that the tollway is behaving “negligently” by taking a measured approach to the new Illinois speed limit law. We appreciate the author’s passion for this issue, but with due respect to him, the law in question does not actually grant the tollway the sweeping authority to change our speed limits to 70 mph throughout the tollway system, and particularly in the areas closer to Chicago, which the author wishes for.

Rather, the new provisions in the Illinois Vehicle Code still mandate that the tollway be guided by expert traffic engineering studies, which the tollway promptly conducted upon passage of the new legislation earlier this year. The tollway’s studies, performed by a nationally renowned independent engineering firm, concluded that about 30 percent of our system (85 miles of toll road) can safely handle an increase to 70 mph. As a result, our patrons will soon see increased speed limits on parts of I-88, I-90, and possibly on the Tri-State Tollway. It is certainly possible that additional speed limit increases could be implemented as extensive construction projects across the tollway conclude in coming years.

As responsible leaders of the Illinois Tollway, we will continue to review speed limits in the context of current legislative authority granted to our agency, safety performance across our system — which, I am pleased to say, is among the highest in the nation — congestion history, roadway design and construction schedules, among other factors.

The tollway’s highest priority has always been — and will remain — the safety of our customers.

Kristi Lafleur

Executive director, Illinois Tollway

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.