Highland News Leader

Plastic bag fee gets mixed reaction in Highland

Highland leaders have mixed reactions on whether the city should follow Edwardsville’s lead in placing a fee on plastic bags.

Last week, Edwardsville became the first downstate city in Illinois to require a 10-cent fee on single-use plastic bags. The fee only applies to businesses of 7,000 square feet or more, so smaller retailers like the Chef Shoppe are exempt. The Edwardsville ordinance allows the large retailers to keep the 10 cents collected for each single-use bag to help cover administrative and record-keeping costs. While it was voted unanimously, the vote has been somewhat controversial in the metro-east.

Would Highland consider such a fee - or follow in the footsteps of some Chicago-area municipalities that have taxed the bags or banned them outright?

For Nancie Zobrist, director of the Highland Chamber of Commerce, the key is that business owners should have the choice whether to stop using the bags or add a fee that would encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags.

“Every business owner makes decisions about their brands’ identity, from what their mission statement is to whether they should be open on Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Zobrist said. Owners highlight different aspects of how they run their business and consumers choose whether they want to support that business based on its brand and company culture. The point is that each business owner, as well as consumer, should have the right to choose. Businesses that choose environmental sustainability as part of their brand identity and company culture should highlight those convictions and the free market will take care of the rest.”

The Edwardsville/Glen Carbon Chamber had likewise opposed the mandated fee, on the basis that it might hurt business.

Some Highland council members and Mayor Joe Michaelis could not be reached for comment. However, Councilman John Hipskind said he was open to the discussion.

“While I am always hesitant to support new fees or taxes, I think Edwardsville went about this the right way by involving its business community in the decision,” he said. “We must balance the needs of helping our environment while making sure to avoid placing too much of a burden on small business owners or the public. Edwardsville’s choice to enforce this tax only on large retailers is an interesting way to balance those interests and I plan to reach out to the business community and to see if there is interest in Highland for such a bold step.”

Councilwoman Sarah Sloan said she had not yet formed an opinion on the subject. Mayor Joe Michaelis said the bag fee was not a concept that’s been discussed in Highland, but that he will discuss it with the city manager and staff.

“I think it would help a lot,” he said. “Along the highways and roads you see an abundance of plastic bags… it’s a good idea to help reduce the littering along the roadways.