Citing numerous complaints from local business owners, Evanston City Council members sent a plan to tax and ban shopping bags back to committee Monday night.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said he supports getting people to use reusable shopping bags, but given the precarious state of many small businesses, he couldn’t support the new restrictions.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) suggested having the new ordinance only apply to stores larger than 10,000 square feet — the ones that are covered by the city’s current bag ordinance.

That measure restricts those stores from offering thin film plastic bags, which has led them to provide thicker plastic bags or paper bags instead.

As proposed, the new ordinance would impose a 15-cent tax on paper and plastic bags now and then ban plastic carryout bags starting in April 2024.

A bag ban backer, Ald. Devon Reid (8th), offered a demonstration of online ordering through the Square app that he claimed showed the bag tax would not impose an undue burden on merchants.

But Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) said she thought his illustration was oversimplified. Small businesses are struggling coming out of the pandemic and the tax “is a bad move right now,” she added.

Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) said he’d just like to ban plastic bags and have a way to exempt small businesses if they’re only using paper bags.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said he hadn’t heard objections from business owners to banning plastic bags — only about imposing a tax on bags.

Revelle said California, which banned single-use carryout plastic bags in 2016, last year adopted a ban on non-compostable, plastic pre-checkout bags — used to protect meats, produce and other items before checkout — that is scheduled to take effect at the start of 2025.

She suggested the Evanston ordinance — which as currently drafted does not ban or tax pre-checkout bags — should be revised to match the California law and given the same effective date.

Nieuwsma asked alders to take a straw poll on several options, and it appeared that most favored exempting small businesses from the tax, reducing the tax from 15 to 10 cents and Revelle’s proposal regarding pre-checkout bags.

The vote to refer the ordinance back to committee carried 8-1. Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) did not explain his rationale for casting his “no” vote on the measure.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. I am surprised at the suggestion to ban meat and produce pre-checkout bags. There is a reason those where explicitly exempted in the current proposed ordinance.

    While the California ban takes effect in 2025, NJ, and the city of Philadelphia banned all single use bags in grocery stores last year. I think city council (or its committees) should see if they can find out how that is going before moving forward.

  2. New York State recommends using pre-checkout bags for meat.

    “Always put raw meats into a disposable plastic bag before putting them in a reusable bag.
    A disposable plastic bag will help contain any juices that drip off raw meat, fish and poultry packages. These juices will then be unable to touch other foods and contaminate them. Disposable plastic bags are usually available in your store’s raw meat, fish, poultry or produce areas.
    Immediately after use, throw away disposable plastic bags used for raw meat, fish or poultry. Never reuse bags that contained raw meat, fish or poultry.”

  3. Adding a clarification:

    The ban would be on non-compostable, plastic pre-checkout bags.
    I assume supermarkets would find sources for compostable bags and make them available to shoppers, which would resolve my concerns.

  4. A single use bag tax sounds discriminatory to me. The people who emerge from a food store with reusable bags they brought with them pay no bag tax and usually get in their Volve or Subaru wagons and drive off. Those who emerge with single use bags and pay the tax usually walk home, head for the bus stop or take a taxi. To change habits, the city should offer an incentive or reward, but the city seems to be stuck on penalties.

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