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An Environment Board recommendation that the City add a 5 cent fee on all “single-use” bags, presented to Council on Oct. 24, fell flat because of concerns over the impact on small business and the perceived punitive nature of the proposal. The initiative now returns to the Environment Board for further tweaking.

The proposal would have allowed merchants to keep 2 cents of the 5, with the other 3 going to the Ecology Center “to fund education programs including bag reduction education.” Implementation would have been delayed six months after enactment to allow education, reduction in current store bag stock, and the distribution of reusable bags, under the proposal.

After the presentation, it was clear the proposal had little support in Council. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she supported a voluntary, more positive approach. Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said, “I’m all for rewards… [there are] two different divergent paths. … The route of incentives and the route of penalties.” It seemed predetermined, he said, that the bag ordinance would follow the penalty route rather than the incentive route.

“It’s a punishment. It’s another tax,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward. “This fee is going to alienate people. People are upset and frustrated.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward , focused on the impact the ordinance would have on small business. The 2 cents per bag for merchants would not come close to covering costs, she said, as accounting alone would exceed any amount collected. Cash registers would have to be programmed and the time to implement and account “will make the difference to them between staying open and not staying open,” she said. Ald. Fiske owns a small business, Fit & Frisky, on Davis Street.

Only Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, spoke in favor of the proposal. “We don’t bat an eye when we tax alcohol, gas, cigarettes …,” she said. “We tax people or add a fee when we want to change behavior.” She said the City could take positive steps immediately, like banning plastic bags at the farmers’ markets.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward , said that she talked to a number of communities about their implementation of similar ordinances, including DuBuque, Ia. and Brownsville, Tex. “The goal really is changing consumer habits,” she said.

No community referenced sits right next to a major metropolis, however. Numerous speakers pointed out that the change in consumer habits may be a switch to the Dominick’s at Gateway Center in Chicago or the Jewel just a few blocks north of the Green Bay Road Dominick’s. Ultimately, the majority of Council wants a more positive, reward-based approach to the bag issue. The matter is now back in the Environment Board’s hands.