Metro-East Living

Legal setback causes group to push for state instead of local fees on shopping bags

A community group will turn its attention to passing state legislation now that Edwardsville and Glen Carbon aren’t going to require local stores to charge a 10-cent fee for single-use paper and plastic shopping bags.

Last week, the village of Glen Carbon announced that it wouldn’t be approving an ordinance proposed by Bring Your Own Glen-Ed. The group had made a presentation to the village’s Public Safety Committee last year and planned to address the entire Glen Carbon Village Board this spring.

“Our attorney has advised us that we have no statutory authority to to adopt an ordinance to take such action,” said Village Administrator Jamie Bowden. “We are not home rule.”

Under the Illinois Constitution, municipalities are “home rule” if their populations exceed 25,000, giving them expanded regulatory powers. Glen Carbon’s population is about 13,000.

The village’s announcement essentially halted Bring Your Own’s effort to get the same ordinance passed in Edwardsville. The group had agreed that a bag fee should be charged at stores in both municipalities or neither because of their shared border and interconnected economies.

“We were disappointed to find out that the village of Glen Carbon didn’t have the legal authority to enact a bag fee,” said Sheila Voss, a member of Bring Your Own’s leadership team. “But we are encouraged and enthusiastic about the possibility of a statewide solution. I’ll take statewide legislation over a local ordinance any day.”

Voss was referring to the fact that two bills have been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly this session calling for taxes or fees on single-use plastic and paper bags, and that Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently included revenue from a proposed 5-cent bag tax in his budget.

“I think we have a legislative environment that wants to get something done on single-use bags,” Voss said.

Group targeted large retailers

Bring Your Own was asking Edwardsville and Glen Carbon to require stores with more than 7,000 square feet, as well as all gas stations and convenience stores, to charge the 10-cent bag fee. Members also were helping people in Collinsville, Highland, Belleville and Fairview Heights start their own campaigns.

The group seemed to have momentum on Feb. 19, when a standing-room-only crowd of supporters showed up for its presentation to Edwardsville City Council. But that was before Glen Carbon bowed out of the regional plan.

This week, Bring Your Own updated its position and strategy in a letter to municipal leaders, saying it will postpone its pursuit of a local bag fee but continue to “engage, educate, and activate consumers and businesses to reduce single-use waste.”

“Given the uncertainties related to timely passage of a statewide bill, we will seek to revisit the local proposed ordinance if policy action stalls or otherwise dissipates in 2019,” the letter stated.

Bring Your Own opposes Gov. Pritzker’s current budget proposal on shopping bags because it would tax plastic but not paper, Voss said.

The group is supporting House Bill 3335, sponsored by Illinois Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago). It was assigned to the Sales, Amusement and Other Taxes Subcommittee of the House Revenue and Finance Committee on March 14.

If enacted into law, House Bill 3335 would require shoppers to pay a 10-cent fee on single-use paper and plastic bags at all retail stores. Retailers would keep three cents, and the rest would go to environmental and waste-management programs.

“We are joining a coalition with the Illinois Environmental Council and other organizations across the state to support that bill,” Voss said.

Committee approves second bill

Also being considered is Senate Bill 1240, sponsored by Illinois Sen. Terry Link (D-Indian Creek). It would require shoppers to pay a 7-cent tax on single-use paper and plastic bags at all retail stores, with money going to retailers, the state’s general fund and waste-management programs.

Bring Your Own opposes that bill because no money would go to environmental causes; bag suppliers could get the retailer share under certain circumstances; and local governments would be prohibited from regulating other types of containers.

Senate Bill 1240 was unanimously approved to advance from the Senate Revenue Committee on March 6. Link told Capital News Illinois that it would likely be amended.

“I’m working with the governor’s office to get the bill they they want and we want together,” he said.

Shoppers at the Target store in Belleville on Thursday had mixed reactions to state proposals for bag fees or taxes. Brenda Vielweber, 59, of O’Fallon, is strongly opposed.

“They overtax us already,” she said. “So the idea of taxing us more is ridiculous. Pritzker will get us any way he can. We’re leaving Illinois. We’re going to move to South Carolina.”

Julie Grohmann, of Millstadt, sees both sides. When she gets plastic bags at the store, she tries to reuse them for disposing of cat litter or lining trash cans at home.

Karlie Bugg, 21, of Belleville, thinks charging for single-use bags is a good idea.

“It will remind me to bring my own more,” she said. “It would help the environment for sure. I know that there’s a lot of plastic in the oceans.”

World addresses bag pollution

Environmentalists say plastic bags end up in lakes, rivers and oceans, kill marine life and animals that eat or get tangled up in them and endanger humans because they break into smaller pieces and get ingested through water, food and air; and that paper-bag production pollutes air and wastes trees, water and energy.

“The point is for people to start bringing their own reuseable bags,” Voss said.

In the past decade, dozens of countries and hundreds of cities have enacted fees, taxes or bans to reduce the number of single-use bags, particularly those made of petroleum-based, thin-ply plastic. Californians approved a statewide ban in 2016.

Such efforts have met with resistance from bag manufacturers, including South Carolina-based Novolex, which launched a Bag the Ban project that now is being promoted under the name American Progressive Bag Alliance. It argues that fees, taxes and bans hurt consumers and don’t really help the environment.

“We believe in a better solution, one that increases the recycling and reuse of grocery and retail bags across the country without banning products or taxing families,” its website states.

Desiree Bennyhoff, president of the Edwardsville/Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce, said in February that her organization supports voluntary programs to reduce the number of single-use bags but opposes mandatory fees, the Edwardsville Intelligencer reported.

The St. Louis-based Schnucks grocery store chain issued the following statement last fall:

“At checkout, Schnucks offers our customers the choice of plastic or paper bags, and most choose plastic. We also sell reusable bags at a very reasonable price. Certainly, we would prefer not to inconvenience our customers by limiting their options or charging them more; however, Schnucks will always remain in compliance with the laws of the municipalities in which we operate.”

Some large retailers with metro-east stores have already stopped distributing shopping bags, asking customers to bring their own. That includes Goodwill, Aldi’s and Sam’s Club.

Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat

Teri Maddox has been a reporter for 35 years, joining the Belleville News-Democrat in 1990. She also teaches journalism at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. She holds degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and University of Wisconsin-Madison.