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City council delays plastic bag tax

Alan Yu

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The Evanston City Council delayed introducing a tax on disposable plastic bags to contemplate a complete ban at Monday night’s meeting.

Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) presented for discussion an ordinance imposing a five-cent tax on disposable plastic bags in Evanston. Burrus removed the item from the council’s agenda last fall to pursue more education and outreach efforts around the city before introducing the ordinance.

City staff will seek more input from business owners before bringing back the revised ordinance for further discussion in late May. Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) proposed revising the ordinance to a complete ban on plastic bags.

Before the meeting, Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) spoke against implementing the tax, acknowledging Evanston residents who are already reusing their bags. She also expressed concern about the economic harm the ordinance could cause small businesses.

“I do think this would have a devastating impact on small mom-and-pop-type businesses,” said Fiske, who also owns a pet supplies store.

Fiske added that she spoke with members of the Central Street Business Association Monday afternoon, and said that many businesses were simply unaware of the potential ordinance.

“They knew nothing about this,” Fiske said.

Burrus apologized and said she was under the impression city staff had reached out to all businesses. Later in the meeting, Rainey echoed the need to inform business owners around Evanston to let them make the transition, suggesting businesses give out reusable cloth bags as a form of advertising while displaying a cloth bag showing the words “The Great 8th Ward: Ann Rainey” on the front and “Shop local” on the back.

“I hate plastic bags and I’m prepared to vote tonight to eliminate plastic bags and the brown paper bags as well, whatever it takes to get rid of them,” Rainey said. “I oppose the charge of a tax because to me, that simply permits you to have plastic bags if you pay for them.”

Burrus said she did not expect the ordinance to pass in its current form, hoping instead to start a discussion about the use of plastic bags in Evanston.

“I consider bringing the ordinance now my opening salvo, and that there will be a lot of discussion going forward,” she said. “We need to move forward to have a conversation, and the only way to do that is to make a stand, and say, ‘OK, let’s really get this into the forefront of people’s minds.'”

Elizabeth Miller, co-director of Northwestern’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institute’s Center for Energy and the Environment and a member of student campaign Bagless NU, agreed on the need for more outreach to students about the use of plastic bags, recalling the reactions of her friends who attended recent screenings of the movie “Bag It” and found it eye-opening.

“Just hearing that kind of response and hearing them telling their friends is the kind of chain reaction that we hope to start on a wider scale,” the Communication junior said. “One of our biggest challenges is with engaging people and getting them to care.”