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Debate Over Disposable Shopping Bag Ban Reveals Community Rift

A proposed ordinance would outright ban paper and plastic disposable shopping bags in Evanston.

Evanston residents debated a proposed citywide ban on plastic and paper disposable shopping bags during a two-hour long community meeting held Tuesday night at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.

Proponents of the ban hailed the effort as forward-looking legislation that would lend beauty and prestige to the city, while opponents claimed the restriction would simultaneously drive away both potential and current businesses, deter consumers, and cut the City’s tax revenue.

While the meeting marked the first public forum for the issue, for months to levy a five cent tax on disposable shopping bags. One year after Washington, D.C. implemented such a fee, the city’s disposable bag usage decreased by 78 percent.

Catherine Hurley, sustainable programs coordinator for the City of Evanston, said that City officials eventually decided on a more direct approach. Ban the bags outright.

“The idea of the bag ban is that rather than still allow people to take the bag that you don’t want them to take and pay a penalty, why not say you just can’t give away bags?” Hurley said.

But other Evanston residents expressed worries that either a tax or ban would be harmful to local businesses.

“Probably the biggest store that is going to suffer with this type of ordinance is Dominick’s, which is two blocks South of Jewel in Wilmette,” said Evanston resident Skip Weber. “It’s just like when they raise gas tax or sales tax, it’s always the stores around the edge [of the city] that suffer. … And businesses may not move in because of the extra burdens Evanston is going to put on them."

Todd Ruppenthal, owner of Happy Husky Bakery and president of the Central Street Business Association said that the proposed reusable bags could potentially deter customers from making additional purchases.

“A negative of the ban is that when people do bring their own bags to the store, if they only brought one but then decide that they want more than that, they don’t have the option to purchase more,” Ruppenthal said. “They would end up buying less. … The implications of that span across all economic effects, from tax dollars and the effects on the business that they patronize.”

Though the City has suggested a total ban of disposable shopping bags, other options were discussed at Tuesday’s meeting, including having the City provide reusable grocery bags at no to low cost for qualifying households, creating recycling or bag composition requirements for Evanston businesses, and increasing local education and outreach programs.

Regardless of what ordinance is passed, City officials said the changes will likely take effect Jan 1, 2012, with the possibility of phase-in period beforehand.

City officials estimate Evanston residents use near 25 million plastic bags annually, recycling only 1.5 percent of them, causing a negative impact on wildlife.

Evanston's  Public Works Committee will meet June 13 to evaluate the discussion of Tuesday night’s meeting.

Jen Preschern May 27, 2011 at 12:44 AM
Not sure if you all saw the comments in the Evanston Review today- but apparently, the idea of providing "no-cost re-usable bags to those who are not able to afford them" is also part of this equation. The city manager is talking of cutting all services provided to the North Side of Evanston, including Chandler-Newberger, Noyes Street Art Center, The Ecology Center, and the NOrth Branch Library (again), but people want taxes to go to buying bags? Is this a Simpson's episode?
Civil Discourse May 27, 2011 at 01:23 PM
Brava to mrs m for actually providing data to back up her opinion on the plastic bag issue! And brava to the sustainability coordinator for having the courage to do what needs to be done. I support the ban on plastic bags despite the initial inconvenience it may pose to me on occasion. The comments that argue about how inconvenient going without plastic bags would be to individuals are short sighted. It's a simple behavior change that will have significant environmental impacts for the greater good. I understand the concern on the part of local business owners, but without actual proof that sales go down when an initiative like the one being proposed is enacted, it is mere unsubstantiated opinion.
Richard Schulte May 27, 2011 at 01:40 PM
"I understand the concern on the part of local business owners, but without actual proof that sales go down when an initiative like the one being proposed is enacted, it is mere unsubstantiated opinion." The burden of proof should be on those who support the ban, not on those who oppose the ban. Where are the studies that show that banning plastic and paper bags has no effect on businesses? It is obvious that consumers have choices where to shop and shoppers can drive to adjacent cities to get want they want. That's a double whammy-reduced sales for Evanston businesses and more driving to shop. If folks from Evanston drive to stores in other cities, the plastic bag ban will have a net negative effect on the environment. The law of unintended consequences always applies, particularly in this case.
Will Stokes May 27, 2011 at 08:36 PM
Russian immigrants who moved here after the fall of communism marvelled at the fact that they were asked their choice of "paper or plastic" bags at the supermarket. At the old Stalinist GUM store in Moscow they had to bring their own sacks for hauling home their paltry purchases. They'll soon be able to flash back to a little piece of the old socialist utopia in forward thinking Evanston.
J C May 28, 2011 at 02:42 AM
Take this Bag and shove it I ain't Shopin' here no more My sustainable programs coordinator done left and took all the reason I was Shopin' for Ya, better not try and stand in my way Cause I'm walkin', out the door Take this Bag and shove it I ain't Shopin' here no more.......

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