The Oak Park Board of Trustees approved two proposals at its May 20 meeting that aim to make Oak Park more environmentally sustainable.

The first measure establishes the “Plastic Free July” campaign by the village’s Environment and Energy Commission (EEC). The other will install thousands of energy efficient lightbulbs on streetlamps across the village.

The plastics-free campaign follows a five-month review by the EEC and primarily aims to educate restaurant owners and workers on the environmental damage brought by single-use plastic straws, flatware and to-go containers, among others.

“Together they contribute to high volumes of pollution, and most restaurant staff is not aware of the environmental impact,” according to a document in the village board’s meeting packet.

Nick Bridge, chairman of the EEC, said the campaign aims to make it more standard for restaurants to hand out plastic items by request only. The village also would collect data on the amount of plastics given out by businesses to establish a database to assess consumption of plastic materials.

Trustee Deno Andrews said he supports the program, congratulating the village on reducing plastic bag consumption last year from the passage of a plastic bag tax. He said that tax charges a dime per bag at some larger businesses in an effort to encourage residents to bring a reusable bag.

The village board also approved a new program to replace the energy guzzling 100-watt mercury vapor streetlight lightbulbs with 3,000 Kelvin LED energy-efficient lightbulbs.

The program will be paid for by the village’s Environmental Sustainability Fund, which is a voluntary program residents pay into through their energy bill to help support such green initiatives.

The streetlight program will be rolled out over three years, according to Oak Park Public Works Director John Wielebnicki. That will entail replacing bulbs on roughly 2,500 light poles, he said.

The program will begin on the east side of the village and expand west, with about 800 to 900 new lightbulbs installed a year. He said the new lightbulbs require less maintenance and will stay brighter longer. 

“Switching to LED lamps will maintain the lamp within 90 percent of their original wattage output through the life of the lamp, whereas mercury vapor goes down to around 40 percent at the four- to five-year range,” a document noted in the online village board meeting packet. 

Although not discussed at the Monday night meeting, the decision to replace the lights was driven in part by a spate of carjackings that took place in late 2017 and early 2018. Residents argued then that subpar street lighting was contributing to the problem.

Join the discussion on social media!