Paper or plastic? Either way, shoppers in Oak Park will have to cough up a dime per bag at larger stores in the village, beginning in 2018.

The goal is not to raise revenue for the village — the fee will be split between the retailer and the village — but to encourage patrons to bring their own bags and reduce the amount of waste that gets sent to the landfill every year, according to those facilitating the new village ordinance.

An estimated 17 million plastic bags are distributed in Oak Park every year, Karen Rozmus, Oak Park’s former Environmental Services Manager, told trustees at a meeting in 2017.

Environmental sustainability advocates have been pushing for the ordinance for years, and last year, following the election of three new members to the Oak Park Board of Trustees, they got their wish.

The ordinance requires retail stores of more than 5,000 square feet to charge for the single-use bags. That applies to about 24 different shops in the village — mainly grocery stores and big-box retailers — according to Mindy Agnew, Oak Park sustainability coordinator.

Agnew said the village is working to remind shoppers about the new ordinance by posting signs at businesses that will be required to charge for the bags. The village also is providing hundreds of reusable bags for free at Village Hall, 123 Madison St., and the Oak Park Public Works Center, 201 South Blvd., while supplies last.

She said the village also has been working with various religious congregations in Oak Park to distribute bags and get the word out.

Judy Klem, an organizer with the Interfaith Green Network, a consortium of environmental sustainability advocates from 17 Oak Park-based religious organizations, said that after years of work by locals to get the ordinance in place, they now want to raise awareness about reusable bags.

Her group worked with the village to organize a kick-off event, where grocers and other businesses subject to the ordinance will give out free reusable bags from 9 a.m. to noon on Jan. 6.

Klem said the following retailers — a couple of businesses not subjected to the ordinance are adopting the bag ordinance voluntarily — will participate in the reusable bag giveaway:

  • Carnival Grocery, 824 S. Oak Park Ave.
  • Carnivore, 1042 Pleasant St.
  • CVS, 345 Madison St.
  • Fair Share Finer Foods, 6226 Roosevelt Rd.
  • Jewel-Osco, 7036 Roosevelt Rd.
  • Jewel-Osco, 438 Madison St.
  • Pete’s Fresh Market, 259 Lake St.
  • Sugar Beet Food Co-op, 812 Madison St.
  • Target, 1129 Lake St.
  • Trader Joe’s, 483 N. Harlem Ave.
  • Whole Foods, 7245 Lake St., River Forest

The Interfaith Green Network noted in a press release that approximately 100 billion plastic bags are distributed in the United States annually, roughly 360 for every man, woman and child. Each bag takes more than 200 years to degrade, and as it does, it releases toxic substances that leach into soil and waterways.

The network added that paper bags have a higher carbon footprint because of the energy used to produce and transport them.

Agnew told Wednesday Journal, citing a news story by WTTW, that after the city of Chicago imposed a bag fee, use dropped by 42 percent — and their fee is only 7 cents.  

She noted that the village’s portion of the fee will be used for environmental sustainability initiatives, outreach and marketing support for retailers.

The ordinance does not apply to bags used for prescription drugs; bags sold for yard and pet waste, garbage, dry cleaning or newspapers; bags distributed from seasonal stands like those used at the Oak Park Farmers Market; bags used for bulk or perishable items; and those distributed by restaurants for carry-out orders.


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