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.