Drumming up support for bag fee
Illinois legislators have introduced two bills that would require people to pay for shopping bags in supermarkets and other stores throughout the state.
Both bills are being closely watched by metro-east residents, particularly those in Edwardsville and Glen Carbon, who have spent the past year campaigning for “green fees” on bags in their communities.
Sen. Terry Link (D-Indian Creek) is sponsoring Senate Bill 1240, which would levy a 7 cent tax on single-use plastic, paper and compostable bags in retail stores. The idea is to reduce the number of bags being distributed and encourage people to bring their own reusable bags.
“I am one of these people who would like to get rid of these plastic bags,” Link said. “They’re not biodegradable. It’s a huge environmental problem.”
Environmentalists say plastic bags end up in lakes, rivers and oceans — washing up on beaches and killing marine life and animals that ingest or get tangled up in them — and endanger humans because they break into smaller pieces and get ingested through water, food and air.
Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) is sponsoring House Bill 3335, which would impose a 10 cent fee on single-use plastic, paper and compostable bags in retail stores.
The main difference between the two bills is the amount of money that would be collected and how it would be distributed.
Group revises original ordinances
A grassroots organization called Bring Your Own Glen-Ed has been trying to drum up public support for municipal ordinances in Edwardsville and Glen Carbon that would require retailers to charge a 10 cent fee on single-use plastic and paper shopping bags.
Originally, the group proposed ordinances that would include all retailers, but it revised them last fall after receiving input from local shop owners concerned about their effect on small business.
“Now the ordinances would apply to retailers larger than 7,000 square feet, as well as gas stations and convenience stores,” said Bring Your Own spokeswoman Mary Grose, of Edwardsville. “It would exclude the small, private shops. It’s focusing on the big-box stores.”
The group estimates about 45 stores and gas stations would be affected in both communities, although Sam’s Club, Aldi’s and Goodwill don’t distribute shopping bags.
Bring Your Own members also are helping residents of Collinsville, Highland, Belleville and Fairview Heights get organized and promote similar ordinances in their cities.
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. Others are considering one.
Such efforts have been 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,” according to its website.
Northern Illinois senator tries again
Link has represented the Illinois Senate’s 30th District, which includes northern suburbs of Chicago, since 1997. He now serves as assistant majority leader.
Link has sponsored legislation similar to Senate Bill 1240 in the past, but bills either got vetoed or didn’t make it out of the Illinois General Assembly, he said.
Links predicts this year will be different. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, took office in January. He proposed a 5 cent plastic-bag tax in his budget speech Wednesday, saying it would raise $20 million.
“It’s a new administration,” Link said. “We have a lot of new members, and I think they’d be inclined to vote for it.”
Senate Bill 1240, also known as the Checkout Bag Tax Act, now is being considered by the Illinois Senate’s Revenue Committee.
Under the bill, 7 cents would be collected for each shopping bag. Two cents would go to the retailer, 3 cents to the state’s General Revenue Fund and 2 cents to a new Checkout Bag Tax Fund. The latter would be distributed to counties or municipal agencies for hazardous-waste collection and disposal, recycling and composting programs and solid-waste management.
Link noted that taxes and fees have reduced the number of single-use bags in municipalities and induced more people to bring their own reusuable bags to stores.
“The city of Chicago did it and got a 40 percent reduction in plastic bags,” he said.
Bill’s provisions raise questions
Bring Your Own Glen-Ed hasn’t taken a position on Senate Bill 1240, but members are questioning two of its provisions. One prohibits counties and municipalities from further regulating the use of checkout bags or “auxiliary containers.”
Grose is concerned that cities would lose their right to pass ordinances related to Styrofoam cups or other products deemed environmentally unfriendly in the future.
Another provision gives “wholesalers” (companies that supply bags to retailers) the responsibility of collecting the taxes and remitting them to the state and allows wholesalers to keep the 2 cents that would normally go to retailers if the wholesalers sell bags to non-retail customers.
“It seems like they already sold their bags and made their profit,” Grose said. “It should be up to the state to figure out how to collect the taxes. Why would (bag suppliers) be part of this?”
House Bill 3335, also known as the Carryout Bag Fee Act, now is being considered by the Illinois House of Representatives Rules Committee.
Under that bill, 10 cents would be collected for each shopping bag. Three cents would go to the retailer, 4 cents to a new Carryout Bag Fee Fund, 1 cent to the University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute, 1 cent to the state’s Solid Waste Management Fund and 1 cent to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Partners for Conservation Fund.
Money from the Carryout Bag Fee Fund would be distributed to counties or municipal agencies for hazardous-waste collection and disposal, recycling and composting programs and solid-waste management.
Like Senate Bill 1240, House Bill 3335 prohibits counties or municipalities from further regulating the use of carryout bags, but it doesn’t address other types of containers.
Rep. Williams, who represents the 11th district in Chicago, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the bill this week.
State action won’t stop local efforts
Bring Your Own Glen-Ed members have operated booths at community events, circulated petitions and made several presentations — including one at the Edwardsville City Council meeting on Tuesday — to promote shopping-bag fees in Edwardsville and Glen Carbon.
Edwardsville Mayor Hal Patton, who expressed opposition to a bag fee last summer, said the group had improved its proposal in the past six months, according the Edwardsville Intelligencer.
The Edwardsville/Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce supports voluntary programs to reduce the number of single-use bags but opposes mandatory fees, the Intelligencer reported.
Bring Your Own members plan to forge ahead with their campaign, regardless of what happens with bag legislation in the Illinois General Assembly, Grose said.
“We would love a state bill that would simplify things, but we don’t know if and when that might happen,” she said. “In the meantime, we’ll continue with our proposal for Edwardsville and Glen Carbon.”
Scott Schneider, owner of Chef’s Shoppe in Edwardsville, was one of the local business owners who gave input on the bag-fee ordinances. He was pleased when they were revised to exclude small shops and when Bring Your Own agreed that fees must apply to retailers in both Edwardsville and Glen Carbon because of their shared border.
Schneider is less enthusiastic about proposed state legislation on shopping bags.
“It’s another example of politicians in Springfield who have lost touch with reality,” he said. “... They have no clue what’s going on in the real world. It’s just like them passing the $15 minimum wage. People are going to be standing in line longer, and they’re going to pay more for products.”