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Alderman: Give small shops 3 years to comply with plastic bag ban

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) | Sun-Times files

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) | Sun-Times files

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Updated: May 2, 2014 6:16AM



An influential alderman said Monday he’s willing to give small retailers three years to comply with a Chicago ban on plastic bags — long enough for consumers to get used to the idea of bringing their own bags on shopping trips.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Health and Environmental Protection, said the three-year time frame should be confined to retailers with less than 2,000 square feet of floor space.

Larger retailers should have one year to comply, the chairman said.

“Instead of exempting them altogether, it makes sense to give `em a longer period of time so everybody sort of gets into this compliance mode. It’s really a culture of people getting into that mindset of doing the right thing” by bringing their own, re-usable bags, Cardenas said.

“Three years seems like a very long time," he said. "But, I don’t want people to say we’re not giving small businesses a chance. Some are struggling. To be fair and to have complete compliance, you want to be a little more lenient. Look at ObamaCare. ObamaCare is changing the goal line so many times, people are beginning to not even believe it. Let’s not do it incrementally so people don’t believe it, then extend it.”

Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he was prepared to ban plastic bags, but had not yet decided whether or when to include smaller retailers.

“I support the ordinance in general, but details do matter here — how you do it as it relates to small family retail operations vs. 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,” the mayor said then.

Emanuel was asked how he feels about the Illinois Retail Merchants Association’s push for a ten-cent tax on paper bags that cost three times as much as plastic to allow retailers to recoup their costs and change consumer behavior.

“I don’t think that’s necessary, but we’re gonna work through all the details,” he said. Emanuel said.

On Monday, Cardenas said he expects the details to be worked out in time for the April 15 committee vote that he has scheduled at the behest of chief sponsor, Ald. “Proco” Joe Moreno (1st).

If retailers want to charge their customers for a nickel or a dime for paper bags, Cardenas said they’re free to do so. But, he maintained that the City Council is not about to do it for them.

“It’s more than just politically. Who says 10 cents is really the right price anyway? Why not 15 cents? Why not 20 cents? Who am I to put a price on something I don’t manufacture and I don’t know what the cost of manufacturing it is? Why put it on us to come up with something that we don’t have any data to support?” Cardenas said.

Although Emanuel has publicly ruled out a tax on paper bags, sources said the mayor has privately acknowledged that charging consumer behavior is the only way to convince 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 nickel-and-dimes Chicago consumers who have had a bellyful of that already.

If that happens, the debate would be all about the tax — 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.

Tanya Triche, vice-president and general counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, has argued that “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.”

Six years ago, Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) proposed a ban on non-compostable plastic bags to curb the flood of 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.

But, Burke backed off after retailers joined forces with then-Mayor Richard M. Daley against the ban.

Retailers helped draft a recycling compromise and went along with it, even after expressing strong reservations about the cost.

On Monday, Burke essentially said, “I told you so.”

“Clearly, it’s a matter that’s time has come. I introduced this years ago. It didn’t go anywhere. And it’s still a blight on the urban landscape,” Burke said.



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