Elgin merchants push back on proposal to charge 10-cent fee per shopping bag

Elgin could join a rising number of communities in the area to implement a single-use shopping bag fee. But the proposed fee of 10 cents per plastic or paper bag is facing strong opposition from retailers in the city.

The Elgin City Council this week reviewed a proposed ordinance from the city's sustainability commission.

If approved, the program initially would require retail establishments over 5,000 square feet to charge their customers 10 cents per single-use bag. The fee would apply to all types of checkouts - including cashier, self-checkout and online/phone orders - at about 30 stores in Elgin.

Six months after implementation, the requirement would be extended to every retailer in the city, regardless of size.

Customers participating in an Illinois food assistance program would be exempt.

Elsewhere in the region, Evanston implemented a ban on plastic single-use bags in 2015. Chicago, Oak Park, Woodstock and Batavia have all imposed bag fees in the years since.

During the Elgin City Council meeting on Wednesday, many local grocers voiced their opposition to the bag fee.

Paul Butera of Butera Market said he participated in a Zoom call this week with 10 large Elgin retailers that would be affected by the ordinance. All of them objected to it, saying they believed their customers don't want it.

"We are going to be the front line facing customers that are not in favor of this," Butera said. "We think that the program will not serve Elgin but may hurt it."

While Butera says a bag ordinance might be good for Elgin's reputation, it could cause some customers to shop outside the city.

Frank Paganis and Bob Tzotzovolis of Elgin Fresh Market said the proposed fee isn't feasible from an operational standpoint. They cited the logistics of self-checkout, which 48% of their customers use, in addition to existing customer concerns about food inflation,

"This is not a real solution," Paganis said. "Don't just jump on the bandwagon. I don't think it's fair, not to these customers."

The sustainability commission has been considering a program to reduce single-use waste in Elgin since 2015. Members say the goal of the ordinance is not to generate income but to effect behavior change to create a cleaner community.

Elgin's sustainability analyst, Mikala Larson, cited studies that Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year that require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture. Another study said paper bags need four times as much water to produce as plastic bags.

She said that while plastic bags are recyclable, they require a special process and aren't eligible for curbside recycling.

"We need to think about instead of recycling as a solution, reducing is the solution," Larson said.

Council reaction was mixed.

Several members felt like businesses should have had more time to weigh in. Larsen said businesses were first contacted earlier this month.

Council member Rose Martinez said she wasn't necessarily against a bag ordinance, but she feels businesses need to be involved in the process.

"Look how we're going to affect them," Martinez said. "These are the things we need to be mindful of. I think I would be offended if I was a business."

Carol Rauschenberger, who is the council liaison to the commission, said something has to be done.

"We should not not act because it's inconvenient for somebody," Rauschenberger said.

She said plastic bags are banned in 33 countries and two states in the U.S. Roughly 200 municipalities have banned them or applied a fee for their use.

"It's not a huge step," she said. "But it is a step that we can make as a community and to think about our future."

Council member Dustin Good and Mayor David Kaptain suggested that a total ban on single-use bags might be easier for retailers to implement.

Under the proposal, the city would collect half the fee, with the retailer keeping the other half.

Some council members questioned why the city should keep any of it. And if the city does, they asked, what should it do with the money? Another wanted to know why the farmers market wouldn't be subject to the fee.

After nearly 90 minutes of discussion, the council opted to bag the issue for now and allow the commission to come back with a revised plan.

  Elgin is considering a single-use shopping bag fee. A proposal heard by the city council Wednesday suggested a fee of 10 cents per plastic or paper bag. But the council members decided they wanted more study on the issue before taking a vote. Rick West/
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