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Emanuel embraces plastic bag ban, unsure about small retailers 

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Sun-Times Library

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Updated: April 28, 2014 10:33AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he’s prepared to impose a Chicago ban on plastic bags but has not yet decided whether or when to include smaller retailers.

“Plastic bags have a consequence and cost to all of us, both from clean-up to garbage hauling. And I want a policy that advances our environmental policy . . . I support the ordinance in general, but details do matter here,” the mayor said.

“How you do it as it relates to small family retail operations versus the big-box [stores], how you do it from a consumer standpoint, how you do it from [an] environmental [standpoint] is what I told the alderman when I said I’m going to support this. I want to work through the details, which is what we’re working through right now to make sure it’s a balanced approach that achieves the environmental policy I’ve set out for the city.”

Last year, Emanuel’s opposition derailed a weaker ban-the-bag ordinance that would have prohibited Chicago retailers with more than 5,000 square feet of floor space from putting their merchandise in plastic bags.

The chief sponsor, Ald. “Proco” Joe Moreno (1st), then came back with a new version that includes retailers large and small at the behest of aldermen whose wards are dominated by small stores and didn’t want them littered with plastic bags.

That only made the Illinois Retail Merchants Association’s push harder for a 10-cent tax on paper bags that allows retailers to recoup the added cost of paper bags and change consumer behavior.

On Wednesday, the mayor was asked whether he would be willing to impose such a tax.

“As you know, it doesn’t contain that. I don’t think that’s necessary, but we’re gonna work through all the details. It does not contain it, and that’s the legislation I support,” Emanuel said.

Tanya Triche, vice president and general counsel of the merchants association, said Emanuel obviously realizes “more time and more discussion” is needed before the City Council imposes a ban on plastic bags.

“What is it you’re trying to do? Do you want to get rid of plastic bags or is your goal to get people to stop taking bags at all and bring their own to get single-use bags, regardless of what they’re made of, out of landfills and off the street?” Triche said.

“We’re certainly ready to come to the table to discuss this. But if what you want to do is pass a plastic bag ban at the expense of independent grocers and their customers, we’re going to be opposed to that.”

Moreno said Wednesday he’s heartened by the mayor’s endorsement and confident final details can be hammered out by April 15, when the City Council’s Committee on Health and Environmental Protection is scheduled to vote on the revised ordinance.

The alderman said he’s willing to give stores with more than $50 million in annual revenues eight to 10 months to implement the ban and smaller retailers as long as 16 months.

But he’s not willing to “kick the can down the road” any longer than that. Nor is he inclined to return to his original version by banning small stores altogether.

“I’d have to have a really good reason to take them out and I haven’t seen one yet,” Moreno said.

He added, “There’s a couple of details that need to be worked out: The time frame and the size of the store. That’s it. I have committed to my colleagues who asked me to leave [smaller retailers] in. If you do it by square footage, it’s not just small stores. It’s Dunkin’ Donuts and 7-Elevens. They’re no bigger than ma-and-pa liquor and grocery stores.”

Although Emanuel publicly ruled out a tax on paper bags, sources said the mayor has privately acknowledged that charging consumers may well be the only way to persuade them to start bringing re-usable bags on shopping trips.

But with the mayoral election less than a year away, he doesn’t want to wear the political jacket for another tax that nickels and dimes Chicago consumers who have had their bellyful of that already.

If he did, the debate would be all about the tax and not about the environmental benefits of curbing the flood of plastic bags stuck in trees and fences, jamming landfills and waterways and blamed for the annual death of a million birds and 100,000 marine animals, the sources said.

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