Community discussion of plastic bag ban gets heated

Bailey Williams, Assistant City Editor

Discussion of a proposed plastic bag ban in Evanston ignited debate among community members at a meeting Thursday.

About 25 residents, Northwestern students and local business people gathered at the Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd., for a meeting intended to gather community input on the issue after it was discussed May 19 by aldermen at a City Council meeting.

By the end of the meeting, the group was unable to reach a consensus about how city officials should proceed.

Evanston’s sustainable programs coordinator Catherine Hurley led the meeting.

Some attendees said they believed a ban would be feasible, mentioning alternatives to plastic bags that residents could use. Others argued a ban would not take into consideration that many residents reuse plastic bags for household chores, such as transferring trash to their garbage cans.

Jordan Parker, a climate activist from Chicago, came to suggest to community members that Evanston could be a leader in Illinois. She said other communities were not having discussions about banning plastic bags.

“It’s more about being part of a bigger conversation,” Parker said. “Right now this is where the world is going, is bag legislation. … It’s more about this pristine community here being forward-thinking.”

The debate became divisive at times, sometimes breaking into a number of smaller debates.

In response to a question about how much litter plastic bags create, Jonathan Perman, the former executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, cited studies from other cities that indicated that plastic bags represented only about 1 percent of litter.

Some city businesses may be impacted by a possible ban, Hurley said. According to a preliminary estimate, about 50 stores were anticipated to be affected, including 26 grocery stores.

More than 130 municipalities in the U.S. have enacted policies regulating plastic bags, she said.

At the meeting, attendees were encouraged to fill out a questionnaire about how frequently they used shopping bags, the types of bags they used and preferred and ways to increase the usage of non-disposable bags.

At the May 19 council meeting, some aldermen expressed support for a potential ban.

“I’m 100 percent supportive of doing a bag ban,” Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said at council. “I think Chicago’s initiative makes it much easier for us to do it, because we won’t be the stand-alone as we would have been two years ago.”

On April 30, the Chicago City Council approved a partial plastic bag ban that sparked a renewed interest in Evanston.

(Evanston aldermen eye banning plastic bags after Chicago bill passes)

Hurley referred to Chicago’s ban during the meeting on Thursday, explaining it is “a phase approach” that “pertains only to chain stores.” The first phase will be effective beginning in August of 2015, when chain stores that are at least 10,000 square feet must abide by the legislation. The second phase will be implemented on the same date the next year for chain stores less than 10,000 square feet, Hurley said.

City Council considered the possibility of a plastic bag ban in 2011. After community meetings and discussions at council meetings, the issue was eventually tabled.

During her presentation, Hurley said she would seek input from a number of other groups, including senior citizens, while gathering information to present to City Council.

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