From WILL - News Headlines -

Champaign Council Initiates Grocery Bag Fee

Champaign city leaders have asked staff to set up a fee charged by stores for using plastic or paper bags.

Concerns in a city survey about bag litter prompted a 2-and a half hour discussion in Tuesday night's city council study session, and a 6 to 3 vote favoring the fee. All but a handful of comments favored the plan to encourage use of reuseable bags when buying groceries and retail items.

In an online city survey, nearly 900 respondents indicated they reuse the bags, but many were also concerned about the amount of litter they produce. Cindy Eaglan of Illini Recycling says she's all for using tote bags instead, but says Champaign should focus on other areas of recycling instead of taxing seniors who can't afford the fee, and driving consumers elsewhere.

"I will not be penalized to shop here," Eaglan said. "And that's basically what you're doing. Putting a tax on bags is simply a penalty for choosing to shop in Champaign."

Backers include current and former owners of Champaign Surplus. Dan Epstein says encouraging cloth or canvas bags will help his business.

"Whether it's a few pennies per pag, or 15 cents, or some of the other quotes that were (suggested), every time you do that, there's a cost," he said. "Being able to reduce bags helps all merchants. Certainly from Champaign Surplus' pespective, I know that reduce costs will help us create jobs."

Other supporters include 10 members of the University of Illinois' Students for Environmental Concerns, who displayed pictures of bags littering Boneyard Creek and farm fields. Council member Deb Frank Feinen says a fee shows the city wants to do something about the environment, and set a community standard.

"I'm not looking for a new tax to generate revenue to fill our budget gap," she said. "I'm looking for a disincentive for people to choose plastic or paper bags at the grocery store."

Council member Karen Foster voted against the fee, saying the city shouldn't legislate over a business' right to carry the bags. Foster says the city is 'nickle and diming' people to death, and can't afford another tax. Councilmen Will Kyles and Kyle Harrison also voted it down.

Champaign City Manager Steve Carter says it will likely be summer before a fee amount is decided and set up. Proceeds would go towards an education campaign on recycling.

The vote supporting the fee didn't include an outright ban on paper or plastic bags, which Mayor Don Gerard called 'egregious'.