Oak Park to charge for grocery bags

Measure, taking effect in 2018, charges 10 cents for paper or plastic

August 8th, 2017 2:30 PM

By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The Oak Park Board of Trustees has strengthened an ordinance that charges a fee for single-use bags at local businesses.

The so-called plastic-bag ordinance — approved as one of the last issues considered by the outgoing board of trustees in April before three new trustees were sworn in — made charging the 10-cent fee voluntary.

Advocates for reducing the use of single-use bags said the ordinance approved by the outgoing board was "toothless" and argued that businesses would choose not to participate. 

The ordinance approved unanimously by the board on Aug. 8, requires that all retailers with storefronts over 5,000 square feet charge patrons 10 cents for both paper and plastic bags. The goal is to reduce the use of such bags because of their impact on the environment.

The 10-cent fee will be split between the retailer and the village; the village's portion to be used for environmental sustainability initiatives.

Nick Bridge, chairman of the village's Energy & Environment Commission, said at the board meeting that Oak Park is setting an example for neighboring communities to follow by approving the strengthened ordinance, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

Trustee Deno Andrews spoke of the regressive nature of the fee, noting that low-income shoppers will be hit harder by the fee than their affluent counterparts.

"We need to make sure we're supplying an ample number of bags for people in need," he said. 

Trustee Andrea Button echoed Andrews' concerns, noting that part of the village's take from the fees collected could be used to help supply bags for low-income residents.

"I am for this ordinance; it's the responsible thing to do," she said. "But it's also responsible to be aware of people's budgets."

The ordinance that passed in April at the outgoing board's final meeting drew an outcry from residents who have worked for several years to enact a bag fee. 

Jim Babcock, a member of the environmental justice team at First United Church of Oak Park, said in May that the voluntary ordinance "makes it totally ineffective in reducing the large number of bags given out to Oak Park shoppers every year."

That number is an estimated 17 million plastic bags, Karen Rozmus, Oak Park's former Environmental Services Manager, said earlier this year.

Bridge said the goal is to get as many of those bags out of circulation as possible and the fee would be a deterrent for shoppers taking bags.

"The money is really inconsequential in the final analysis," he said, adding that the fee also would be a "tripwire" for clerks who don't think before putting items in a bag without asking if patrons even want one.

"This puts it at the top of mind," he said.

Board members roundly praised the strengthened ordinance before its unanimous approval.

Trustee Dan Moroney said he was disappointed by the ordinance passed by the previous board — the only dissenting vote on that ordinance was cast by former trustee Colette Lueck — because it didn't go far enough.