Council postpones plastic bag ban for small businesses until Jan. 1
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Council postpones plastic bag ban for small businesses until Jan. 1

Mar 24, 2024

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When the Evanston City Council approved an ordinance banning plastic bags community-wide and imposing a shopping bag tax on May 22, one local business was left holding the bag(s) – literally.

D&D Finer Foods, the grocery store at 825 Noyes St., had purchased thousands of plastic bags more than a year before the ordinance was considered.

And D&D continued to use the bags past the Aug. 1 date when the ban went into effect, receiving a notice from the city of a violation, subject to a $100 fine under the ordinance.

D&D then requested leniency from enforcement after the ordinance took effect, as the store was left with no place outside Evanston to sell their bags, which had D&D’s name and logo on them.

At the City Council meeting on Aug. 28, Evanston City Manager Luke Stowe told council members that he felt the matter was something he could have dealt with administratively, but decided it was better to seek guidance from the council on whether or not to proceed with enforcement on the ordinance or extend the grace period to businesses until Jan. 1 of next year.

Council members opted to go with January of next year as the new deadline for businesses such as D&D that are 10,000 square feet and smaller.

Council member Clare Kelly, in whose 1st Ward D&D is located, argued to push back the date, pointing out the city gave businesses too short a time setting the Aug. 1 date.

“It went from originally being back in January, an April 1, 2024, compliance date, coming back to the council at the end of May, almost in June, with an Aug. 1 [compliance date] – just two months away,” she said.

“When I look at all the other plastic bag bans in all the other cities,” she said, “I have yet to find any that comes down anywhere close to a two-month compliance.”

Council member Krissie Harris (2nd Ward), said while she was inclined to change the date, there was another consideration: “…when we make decisions we have to think about those decisions in totality. I have a business in my ward that called me prior to [Aug. 1] and said we have thousands and thousands of dollars in bags.”

Harris said she worked with Cara Pratt, the city’s Sustainability and Resilience Manager, “and we figured it out and the company donated $24,000 worth of bags. I think if we pass a law these are the things we have to think of, we have to think proactively, not after the fact, and we have to live by the law we made.”

Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th Ward) said he was sympathetic to small businesses and could understand why a small business would buy a year’s worth of plastic bags in advance because of the better price.

Council Member Thomas Suffredin (6th Ward) asked Stowe whether he was confident that D&D’s inventory of bags represents the largest inventory of any Evanston business.

Stowe said he had not heard from any other businesses with the same predicament. He said D&D has about $12,000 to $13,000 worth of bags left and expects to use up most of them by the end of the year.

Suffredin noted that “one of the things we hear a lot is that we’re not helpful to business. This is an opportunity to be helpful to a business.”

Ike Ogbo, the city’s Health and Human Services Director, told council members “there are quite a number” of businesses not in compliance with the law. He said officials are continuing to work with managers to come into compliance.

Suffredin observed, that “obviously they [D&D] made a business decision under one set of regulations. You [the city] changed the game. I don’t think it’s in the city’s best interest to do harm to a business like that.”

He encouraged officials to allow the business to continue using the surplus bags, “giving us time to sharpen our enforcement.”

In this instance, “this is a longstanding business,” he said. “But businesses that are considering multiple locations and the possibility of going to another community, sometimes this is the type of thing they look at. And they say this council ‘is not reasonable, the city’s not reasonable – if you’re not going to work with me, I’m going to chose to locate elsewhere.'”

Kelly maintained there are a number of other businesses also not in compliance. “This one, we’re naming them publicly,” she said. “I’m not going to start naming those businesses, but let’s release the stress. Two months was a very, very unreasonable turnaround.”

She proposed that the council extend the compliance date to Jan. 1 for small businesses. She said she was open to extending the compliance to larger businesses too, but Council Member Devon Reid (8th Ward) argued the extension should only apply to small businesses of 10,000 square feet and under.

“I don’t think there ‘s a single reason why Ross Dress for Less or a Target or some other larger business could not comply with this ordinance. This is a fairly minor inconvenience to them, and they can shift resources around. I’m sympathetic to the small businesses, not to large corporations,” he said.

Kelly’s motion called for the city to offer a grace period on enforcement of the plastic bag ban until the end of the calendar year.

Council Member Bobby Burns (5th Ward) said he would support the proposal, mainly on the argument that the city should have built more time in on compliance at the beginning.

But he asked City Manager Stowe, “are we ever going to fine people for violating this [plastic bag ban]?” At some point, he said, “I’d like to do that.”

Health and Human Services Director Ogbo said that officials never stopped enforcing, but have been taking an education tack at the start.

“Our enforcement element has been to educate and to issue what we call them as ‘violations,’ with a particular time for them to correct the violations,” he said.

“So that’s the model that we go by,” he told council members. “Issue a notice, enlighten them, providing education, provide resources to them, then give them time to correct it.”

Responded Burns said, “Do we truly believe these bags are polluting the environment?” He suggested applying the same response “to something else that’s a lot more obvious, like somebody dumping oil … something that is polluting our environment.”

“I just think whenever that point is, if we really believe in this, we need to get serious, make a deadline,” he said. “I don’t think the dollar amount [$12,000 to $13,000] was setting them [D&D] back. I think it was more of a principle that they shouldn’t be wasteful, but we don’t want them to waste in this way anymore,” he said.

He joined other council members for now, voting 8-1, with Harris the sole no vote, to delay enforcement of the bag ban for businesses under 10,000 square feet until Jan. 1 or until existing supplies have been exhausted, whichever comes first.

Editors note: This story has updated to clarify when the enforcement delay ends.

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Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism. More by Bob Seidenberg

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