The Central Street Business Association is comprised of individuals who are concerned and committed to environmental and social causes. Most of us work and live in Evanston, and raise our families here. We as a group believe that the proposed Evanston Bag Ordinance is one of those “good ideas” whose consequences and effects have not been entirely considered. Read more about our position in the following letters, sent to the City of Evanston, the media, and other organizations.

May 18, 2011

Dear Evanston City Council-

During the last meeting of the Central Street Business Association, it was unanimously decided that the Central Street Business Association should draft a position on the proposed plastic bag ordinance. As the May 24th meeting draws close, it is obvious that the city has an ideal information resource in its local business associations but, as of the writing of this letter we have not been formally contacted. Thus, the need for the Central Street Business Association to draft this letter. The Association discussed this issue at length and it was very clear that we feel the city proposing any sort of negative based way of addressing this issue with a fee or ban is heavy handed and absolutely unacceptable to the small businesses of Evanston. We also want to make it very clear that we do agree with the movement to greener and more environmentally conscious ways of dealing with the issues surrounding the use and disposal of shopping bags.

I have read the report “An Overview of Shopping Bags in Evanston” done by the Office of Sustainability and this brings about information that further proves that to implement a negative measure such as fees or a ban is just not a way for a city to support the business climate. To draft an ordinance of this type is fraught with such complication. Even finishing such an ordinance is next to impossible with the ever changing world of more environmentally conscious products. There are already products on the market that contain plastic or are similar but are considerably more biodegradable. I give the following as an example that it is not feasible to just ban all plastic bags and require paper to be used. Many businesses have products that are too heavy for paper bags to be used or the risk of moisture/water damage too great to an expensive product that paper is not a reasonable alternative. What is done in this case? There are many alternatives but they are too difficult to be addressed by the simplicity of a blanket ordinance.

Added to the complication, the use of a negative way of addressing this issue such as a ban or fee, who polices it? Can it be realistically policed at all? Is this really worth the effort to police in the first place? Another thought that was brought up at the meeting was, is this a thinly veiled way for the city to increase revenues? We say, not to the detriment of Evanston businesses. Anything such as an extra fee that will make the playing field less than level for Evanston Businesses in comparison to the adjoining areas works to send Evanston business’ customers to these adjoining cities. These are just two of the huge amount of negative consequences to the use of a negative ordinance to address this issue. Instead of going further into the negative aspects of dealing with this issue we believe and suggest that a more positive approach to this issue is the answer.

We recommend that the city put its effort and resources behind a more positive way to address this issue. We feel that working with Evanston Businesses to show them the positive aspects of moving in a more environmentally conscious direction becomes the ideal Win-Win situation for Evanston and its businesses. We propose the redirection of the resources that might be directed at policing a ban or fee. These resources might be used to expand the office of sustainability and create liaisons to the business community to show them how each specific type of business could improve by embracing greener business practices. The reality is that there are many Evanston businesses that already have implemented more environmentally conscious business practices. But, if they are not specifically what a proposed negative ordinance details, even these well intentioned businesses are negatively impacted. Is that really what we want to do? We recommend that Evanston use these liaisons to continue to work to move all Evanston businesses in a more environmentally conscious direction. In this, Evanston government and its businesses could become a model for how a city and its businesses can work together to create a greener and more environmentally savvy partnership instead of a city where government and business are always at odds. The Central Street Business Association welcomes the opportunity to work with the city to create a positive program to address this issue and keep Evanston moving in a more environmentally conscious direction.

 

Sincerely,

Todd J Ruppenthal – President
Central Street Business Association

Dear Mayor Tisdahl and Members of the City Council,

We fully support the position of the Central Street Business Association as expressed in President Todd Ruppenthal’s letter that Evanston should take a positive approach toward environmentally beneficial packaging rather than a punitive one.

We certainly agree with the goal of creating a greener environment, but are concerned the draconian methods under consideration will place an undue burden on small and niche businesses – the very feature which makes Evanston such an attractive destination for shoppers – and may ultimately be counterproductive.

In the haste to implement a worthy objective, the council should not overlook these important issues:

Evanston already suffers a disadvantage because of our high sales tax. Even with the recent modest reduction, many of our customers (who are often from out of the area) comment on the tax. Though the suggested “sin tax” proposed in the bag ordinance is small, customers will look on this as one more straw added to the camel’s back.

Further, the proposed bag tax ordinance requires bags be charged as a separate line item. This sounds trivial, but many small retailers write invoices by hand. When it gets busy (think of the lines at Christmas), having to count bags and charge for them can slow the checkout process. For merchants with automated systems, reprogramming can be complex and expensive.

Not everyone sells goods which come neatly packaged from a factory. While the proposed ordinance allows plastic bags for moist goods such as flowers or some food products, it does not take into account goods which need protection from moisture. We are just one of at least half a dozen Evanston retailers who sell used or rare books, maps, prints and paper ephemera. Think also of stationers, antique shops and art galleries whose goods require special handling.

Most of our customers are sympathetic to environmental initiatives, and are happy to recycle packaging, as are we and many of our fellow merchants. Some merchants have already invested in recycled or biodegradable bags.

We strongly urge the council to carefully consider the effects of the proposals, including how shoppers will react, before placing additional burdens on the small businesses which are still struggling in this uneven economy.

 

Sincerely,

George & Mary Ritzlin
George Ritzlin Antique Maps & Prints
Established 1976
1937 Central Street
Evanston, IL 60201