Oak Park has been talking about banning plastic bags for years now, and while falling short of eliminating their use, the village's board of trustees has approved a plan to make it voluntary to charge a fee for them.
At its April 17 meeting, the board approved a proposal that establishes a two-year pilot program that would allow retailers to voluntarily begin charging 10 cents for plastic bags, similar to the 7-cent fee charged in Chicago.
The 10-cent fee would be split between the retailer and the village. The village's portion of the funds would be partially used to market participating retailers as certified green businesses with the goal of encouraging other retailers to follow. The funds collected also would be used for other environmental sustainability activities, according to the village.
The goal is to encourage customers to use their own bags and reduce the estimated 17 million plastic bags that are distributed in the village annually.
Nick Bridge, chair of the village's Environment and Energy Commission (EEC), voiced support for moving forward with an ordinance, but noted that it was not the recommendation of the EEC that the program be voluntary.
"Our recommendation was that it be applied to the larger producers, the bigger retailers in town," he said. "We think they're totally equipped to deal with it.
"In some ways, I think it's a little bit problematic making it voluntary, because we're not giving them any cover. One grocery does and the other doesn't. I guess there's what you would call a moral hazard there."
Karen Rozmus, Oak Park's environmental services manager, said that though it falls short of an outright ban, the ordinance would be "a step in the right direction." She said that although many believe that establishing a mandate on the fee, she added that it "can be a controversial issue for many of the large vendors."
Trustee Colette Lueck, who voted against the proposal, asked, "What is the incentive for anyone to do this when they don't have to?"
Rozmus noted that many in Oak Park are environmentally conscious and often talk to store owners about their policy on plastic bags and other environmental initiatives.
"They might want to be part of the movement," she said.
Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb said it made sense to more gradually introduce the bag charge to get to a level where there is buy-in on charging for the bags, rather than making it an immediate requirement.