Evanston aldermen Monday sharply criticized the city’s Environment Board for failing to consult with business owners about a proposed tax on plastic and paper shopping bags.

Several aldermen also said they would prefer voluntary efforts to reduce the use of disposable bags.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the City Council had told the Environment Board months ago when it last brought up the bag restrictions to meet with the business community, but the board had failed to do so.

“The disconnect between the Environment Board and small businesses in Evanston is huge,” Fiske said.

Fiske, who owns a pet supply store downtown, said, forcing businesses to collect a new tax “is unconscionable” in a time of economic strain.

Fiske said the tax would impose costly accounting responsibilities on store owners and require them to upgrade their cash register software.

“This will make the difference to some businesses between staying open and not staying open,” Fiske claimed.

“We’ve got to stop treating this as a ‘warm fuzzy’ issue,” Fiske added. She said the proposal would exempt most restaurants, drycleaners and a variety of other businesses, so it wouldn’t really eliminate plastic bags, but it would impose a severe burden on some retailers.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the city is trying to achieve a goal of reducing the amount of material that ends up in landfills and blows around the streets, but he doesn’t believe the tax would accomplish the goal.

“This is a punishment, another tax. We’re evolving into a culture where we try to punish people for doing something we don’t like,” Wilson said.

The proposed tax, he said, would create resentment and frustration, even among people who typically use reusable bags, but may need a few disposable ones to clean up after their dog or cat.

In all, six aldermen spoke against the proposal.

Top: Alderman Judy Fiske. Above: Alderman Coleen Burrus.

The only alderman to defend it was Colleen Burrus, 9th Ward, who said “Fines help change behavior.”

Burrus said she was offended that she would go into Walgreens for a greeting card and the clerk would end up putting it in a plastic bag. She also suggested that the city should ban plastic bags from the city-operated farmers market.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the Environment Board had not provided enough information to make a decision on the proposal.

She suggested that either the board “should do a much more thorough, much less biased review of the issue, or ask city staff to do it.”

The aldermen took no formal vote on the issue and Laurie Zoloth a member of the Environment Board said the group was prepared to do further research.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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