Oak Park to charge for grocery bags

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

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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.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Kaidrea Stockman  

Posted: August 17th, 2017 10:23 PM

I reuse the plastic bags for my pet. So I'm either going to reuse the plastic grocery bags or buy new ones. This doesn't save plastic in my case. Do they sell biodegradable plastic bags? If so I'll buy those. I just don't see what else pet parents can use and it was nice to be able to reuse a plastic bag. If I buy new bags I'm only using the bag once. :) I will even bring back my plastic bags to reuse at the store before using for my pet so a 2+ reuse of a bag is now a 1 use. I think we need to use less plastic bags I agree but for pet parents any ideas?... :)

Alice Wellington  

Posted: August 12th, 2017 3:08 PM

Shanti Deeksha - frankly, I couldn't care less about being enlightened. I reuse store plastic bags for garbage, because it is convenient to grab one on the way out the door. If they are taxed in Oak Park, I will simply shop elsewhere or buy the bags in bulk, so the net effect on the environment is exactly zero. And just out of curiosity, how do you dispose of your garbage?

Mindy Setzler Kolodziej  

Posted: August 11th, 2017 2:46 PM

@ Nick A Binotti - are you suggesting that all retired individuals receive a pension as generous as you cite in your example? Many retirees have NO pension benefits. There are few companies in the private sector that sponsor defined pension benefits having replaced those ago replaced with 401(k) plans. There are many unfortunate retirees who get by on Social Security alone, or the money that they have saved on their own. Please do not diminish the hardships many retirees are challenged with today. They along with everyone else in Oak Park are still paying property tax, federal taxes and sales and excise taxes and it hurting a great many of them.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: August 11th, 2017 2:01 PM

Shanti Deeksha - LOL, most of the bag tax supporters drive to the stores, then proudly pull reusable bags out of the trunk of their SUVs. This year alone, we've had income taxes raised by the state, property taxes raised by the village, soda taxes raised by the county, and now this. When will the governments have enough?

Jason Cohen  

Posted: August 9th, 2017 9:59 PM

I very recently was in multiple European countries and every single of them charged me for bags. It's going to be everywhere at some point. I am going to stay here in OP and give the local merchants my money and try to bring bags when I can. Let's not punish local stores that have to do this. It's your money so do whatever you want but really all you have to do is toss a few bags in your car and you are good.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: August 9th, 2017 9:20 PM

Jeffrey - Then you must be really upset with all those retired folks who pay zero state income tax. That punished poor/middle/upper class guy trudges into to work every day and pays his fair share in taxes while someone retired, like a recently retired OPRFHS teacher with a $115,000 state pension, pays nothing. But I suppose with all that leisure time and zero state income tax burden, that retired guy can go shop to shop and complain about the services offer by that same punished poor/middle/upper class guy. I hope he remembers to bring his own bag.

Jeffrey Smith from Oak Park   

Posted: August 9th, 2017 7:06 PM

Nothing, not even race, gets as vehement a response on the WJ comments as taxes. While I agree about paper bags and their usefulness for trash, charging for them is appropriate, since their manufacture uses wood, water and electricity that could be better deployed. But though I'm not surprised at the whinging about this bag tax, I am continually surprised that the same people who blow their stacks at any tax increase in OP seem to have no problem with Illinois's outrageous and unfair flat tax on income, a tax that benefits the rich and punishes the middle class and poor. It should be replaced immediately with a graduated state income tax, and the folks upset by this new OP tax should invest in a few reusable shopping bags (around $2 or less each) and thereby avoid the new tax.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: August 9th, 2017 5:52 PM

I have mixed feelings, and I'm particularly concerned about the additional hassles this may cause for local businesses. I'm not sure what qualifies as a 5.000 SF storefront - I imagine most small shops in town are too small but what about a place like the new Coopers Hawk Restaurant; that seems pretty big. Will they have to collect a bag tax when they give out doggie bags? Will there be someone to go around measuring the square footage of retailers to determine who has to pay this fee?

Martin A. Berg from Oak Park  

Posted: August 9th, 2017 2:46 PM

We re-use both plastic and paper bags, as other commenters have noted. I think this is one of those things which simply annoy people and causes a backlash against larger, truly important environmental issues. It also makes OP businesses less competitive. The board should reconsider.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: August 9th, 2017 1:14 PM

How much annual revenue is projected to be raised from the fees and will be it place into the general fund or dedicated to a specific account/project? The Village should consider using the fee money to lower the cost of waste recycling containers. The current monthly service charge might be too much for some residents' budget.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: August 9th, 2017 10:17 AM

@Jeff Schroeder - a tax on comments posted online might generate some revenue. Plus a lot of comments!!! A real windfall - paid by all of us windbags! LOL :-)

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: August 9th, 2017 9:07 AM

This is not a big deal by itself. Neither is the new drink tax, nor the fact that we already pay a sales tax that is higher than our neighbors to the west. But when you add these to higher minimum wage and the huge new tax increase by District 97 it all adds up to a real hit to small retailers and restaurants in Oak Park. As I have said before, you can make arguments for each of the new taxes, but it is the collective impact that is troubling. What new tax will they think of next?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: August 9th, 2017 9:01 AM

We need our minor officials to do less. They start to think they are the lords of the manor around here.

Mary Pellegrini from Oak Park  

Posted: August 9th, 2017 7:14 AM

I am sure that the board is acting with the best of intentions. However, as an example I ask for paper at the grocery store because I use them for garbage and believe that paper in a land fill breaks down more quickly than plastic. I will continue to ask for paper bags. Apparently I will have to pay for them. However, as other readers mention, what about folks who struggle to make ends meet? We must take care of the environment. But in the meantime Oak Park is becoming a very expensive place to live.

Alan Peres  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 8:35 PM

The headline is misleading. It is not the Village that is charging the fee. It is the local business that has to pay to reprogram their computers and deal with the customer. Then it has to calculate the amount owed the Village and submit it. To be clear, I almost always bring reusable bags. In fact I am using Dominick's bags that are probably 25 years old. And I have begun refusing bags if I think I can handle the items loosely. Is there a sunset provision on the ordinance to determine if the revenues are worth the hassle?

Richard Fischer from OP  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 8:00 PM

What about all the plastic water bottles that find their way into the environment? At least the bags can be used for other purposes like garbage bags or dog droppings.

Jay Arbetman from Oak Park  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 7:53 PM

It may be a fee or a tax but it is totally avoidable. Brinng your own bag. This is going to be wide spread sooner than later so just do it. Itis no big deal. In the meantime, retailers and the village have more than six months to educated consumers. Let's hope they do their job and as citizens, let's do ours. Bring your own bag.

Nancy Sweeney Coaker from Westchester  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 7:20 PM

Baggers need be retrained not to put one item in a bag. Needless extra bags!

Al Berggren from Oak Park  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 6:49 PM

Another tax in Oak Park - - Surprise, Surprise!!!

James Peters from Oak Park  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 5:30 PM

A money grab. It shows how desperate governments needlessly burden consumers. The tax is five-cents, but government adds another five cents that. In essence, that makes the tax a profit center for retailers so they don't gag on the cost. And the consumer has to pay both. I'm not going to argue, just take my money elsewhere. I already use Ed's Way in Forest Park as my convenience store, and now that is reinforced. The bag tax, minimum wage and soda tax will hit marginal businesses first, but we probably won't see them closing for a year or more.

Aisha Coleman  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 5:19 PM

Interesting that we are charging 3 cents higher than Chicago for bags. Oak Park continues to find new and creative ways to tax us all out.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 4:50 PM

This is a blatant money grab for the village. Bye-bye Pete's, hello Caputo's. Check it out - the prices are good, and there's no bag charge nonsense (yet).

Tom Coffman  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 4:31 PM

So much for double bagging at Trader Joe's. Maybe they will stockpile all sorts of boxes (in addition to the wine boxes).

Troy Moore from Oak Park  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 4:02 PM

This Summer in Maui, Hawaii, I was impressed with the complete ban on plastic bags there. Also, plastic garbage bags must be compostable. It showed me that it IS possible and can become a normal way of life for us. As you drive our highways or take public transportation, take a close look around at the litter and you will see that much of it consists of the little plastic grocery store bags.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 3:47 PM

In a perfect world, everyone will stop using the bags (and use cloth bags) and there will be no fee collected to fun the Village's environmental initiatives. In a non-perfect world, people will have yet another reason (besides high sales tax, beverage tax, and bag taxes) to shop outside of Oak Park. Elmhurst is pretty close when it is not rush hour. But this still doesn't answer the question of what will happen to all the dog droppings in Oak Park?

Garett Auriemma  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 3:39 PM

Here's the one annoying thing with the bag fee: It's not a big deal at, say a bookstore or other retailer where it's clear how many bags I'll need before I pay. But at grocery stores, the cashier winds up guessing that I'll need, say 3 bags, charges me accordingly, and then the bagger tries to force what turns out to be 4 bags worth of groceries into 3 bags. It happens every time I go to the Brickyard Jewel.

Brad Tabor from Oak Park  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 3:30 PM

And here comes another reason to NOT shop in Oak Park. Between OP and Cook County, I will be spending most of my shopping dollar in Oak Brook. Thank you board!!

Paul Clark  

Posted: August 8th, 2017 3:29 PM

How many businesses in Oak Park have over 5,000 sq. ft.? It would be good to know how many businesses are affected by this.

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