Among the 2018 new year’s resolutions Oak Parkers need set for themselves is “bring your own bag.”

Starting January 1, in certain retail establishments in Oak Park you will be charged a ten cents fee for each disposable paper or plastic bag provided by the merchant for you to carry goods out of stores.  As most Oak Parkers generally support environmentally-friendly initiatives, this is a good thing and one that our community can get behind.

However, with any new policy – and especially a policy that involves a cost to residents – there is some initial confusion and concern.  Here are a few noteworthy aspects of the new law:

First, it is a fee, not a tax.  You can avoid the fee by bringing your own bags.  The ten cents is split between the merchant and the Village.  The merchant will use the money to pay for the additional accounting and reporting work.  The Village will use the money collected to pay for sustainability programs.

To offset the potential regressive nature of the fee, the business community and government are working together to provide free reusuable bags to anyone who wants one (while supplies last).  You can pick up a bag at the Chamber office, at Village Hall and at the Public Works building.  The Interfaith Green Network is spearheading an effort to collect bags for free distribution at select retailers as well.

Second, the law only applies to the roughly 25 businesses with 5,000 or more square feet.   Think grocery, pharmacy and large retailers with big stores.  Boutique retail is often well under that size.  And, the law does not apply to restaurant take-out, medicines bought at the pharmacy counter or the small plastic bags in the produce and meat sections of the grocery store.

We hope the success of the program at the large retailers will encourage shoppers to bring their own bags even to small businesses technically not governed by the ordinance.  The real measure of the program is not the amount of fees collected.  Success hinges on whether we can change consumer behavior to positively impact the environment.

A worthy new year’s resolution, indeed.

Join the discussion on social media!

Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...