CHAMPAIGN — Officials are beginning to explore ways to bag "urban tumbleweed" by making plastic bags a thing of the past and maybe help the environment at the same time.
Nothing formal has been proposed, but Champaign administrators are researching ways to cut down on the city's plastic-bag use. Administrative services manager Elizabeth Hannan said Tuesday that an outright ban or a small fee on plastic bags might be the way to do that.
All nine city council members signed off on a petition to get talks going. That does not mean each would support it, but it is enough to bring it before the council for a straw poll in March.
"Obviously, they're concerned and we're concerned that there's a litter problem in the city, and one of the chief contributors is plastic bags," Hannan said.
It is a pretty common issue. Hannan said Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags annually, and in urban areas, they often do not find their way into a garbage can or recycling bin.
"They're very lightweight, and if you've ever seen one of them float on the air, they're very aerodynamic," she said.
Even if they do make it in to a garbage can, that only means they will end up taking up space in a landfill, Hannan said.
Plastic-bag bans have been springing up throughout the United States in recent years, and some have been met with scrutiny. The Seattle City Council approved a 20-cent fee on plastic bags in 2008, and voters repealed it in 2009, according to news reports.
The city of Seattle tried again in December, when it issued a ban on plastic bags and a 5-cent fee on paper bags. That fee would go back to the retailer to pay for the cost of stocking paper bags. The ban there goes into effect in July.
Hannan said the city of Champaign is now looking for a way to cut back on plastic.
"The idea would be to discourage people from using that option," Hannan said.
A plastic-bag ban would bar businesses from offering that option to customers.
As another option, administrators are looking at requiring businesses to charge a small fee every time a customer takes a plastic bag — maybe something like 5 cents per bag, Hannan suggested.
Whether that revenue would go to the city or the business is up for discussion, but Hannan said the city is not exploring the issue in hopes of creating a new revenue stream.
Champaign resident Adriana Cuervo said it would not be an inconvenience for her — she already takes reusable bags to the store.
"I think they're easier," Cuervo said. "They're easier to handle, they're sturdier and you can carry more things."
The environmental benefit is a bonus, she said.
"I think that would be great," Cuervo said. "Any step that we can take to keep things out of the landfill I think is good."
What do you think?
The city is asking residents to give feedback on plastic bags by taking an online survey at http://www.mobosurvey.com/SB4LS . It closes at 11:59 p.m. Feb. 26.
The Champaign City Council is scheduled to discuss the information at 7 p.m. March 13 in the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.