CHAMPAIGN — Residents might want to think twice about double-bagging their groceries in the future after the Champaign City Council on Tuesday supported a per-bag fee to reduce use of the disposable sacks.
The details will still need to be defined in a formal proposal, but six of nine council members favored a new rule that would force retailers and grocers to charge for each bag that customers take with them. That fee likely will be proposed at five cents for every paper or plastic bag.
"I don't know why you'd need them or want them around," council member Michael La Due said of plastic bags. "They're not convenient when you really look at the situation in a larger context."
The larger context he and other council members cited was the environmental factor. Plastic bags litter the city, they said, and put a strain on natural resources.
"I have to think about what feels right and what I want my 6-year-old to take away from this discussion," said council member Paul Faraci.
Council members Karen Foster, Kyle Harrison and Will Kyles were the three who voted against the bag fee. Foster said businesses should have the right to choose how they manage their bags, and some already do require customers to pay a small fee or bring their own reusable sacks.
"I do not feel that it is something that the city needs to legislate," Foster said.
Stacy James of the Prairie Rivers Network called council members' attention to the damaging effect discarded plastic bags have on wildlife, especially in local waterways, which eventually drain into oceans.
"We are literally trashing the planet, and plastic bags are one of the most commonly identified blights in our community," James said.
Audience members' comments in opposition to the bag fee were few on Tuesday night, but Cindy Eaglen, owner of Illini Recycling, said the city is focusing on the wrong effort. She has been a supporter of raising awareness about recycling, but not necessarily with government intervention.
"You cannot legislate environmental stewardship," Eaglen said. "That has to be educated."
"I don't know where we get extra money for education, unless we charge five cents for plastic bags, I guess," Mayor Don Gerard said.
Local retailers have been relatively absent from the public discussion. Elizabeth Hannan, the city's administrative services manager, said officials invited 100 local businesses to an informational meeting about the fee. Six attended.
"We haven't really heard from any retailers who are against this idea," said council member Tom Bruno.
Bruno said he is "sensitive" to the idea that businesses should have the right to make their own choices, "but that's balanced in so many ways by so many different things we regulate in a complex society like ours."
He said that, a few years ago, he might be surprised that he would be voting in favor of a fee on plastic and paper bags.
"The notion that regulation of business is always across the board a bad idea, I'm not buying that," Bruno said.