The carbon dioxide emissions generated in producing all the plastic bags estimated to be used in Evanston in a year “is equivalent to the emissions generated annually from 5.2 passenger vehicles.”

The carbon dioxide emissions generated in producing all the plastic bags estimated to be used in Evanston in a year “is equivalent to the emissions generated annually from 5.2 passenger vehicles.”

That’s one interesting tidbit from a white paper prepared by the city’s sustainability office in advance of a public meeting planned for next Tuesday to discuss proposals to tax or ban plastic and paper shopping bags in the city.

Based on U.S. Department of Energy figures, households in an American town the size of Evanston typically have a total of about 57,000 passenger cars.

So a bag ban, assuming it didn’t lead any consumers to increase their auto use by shopping out of town, would be equivalent to reducing our personal fleet of vehicles by 0.01 percent.

The meeting Tuesday is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Parasol Room of the Civic Center.

The city white paper identifies 11 communities in five states that have imposed some form of ban on shopping bags.

It also reports on other strategies for reducing the use of disposable bags — ranging from educational campaigns, including some already underway in Evanston, to mandatory statewide recycling programs at supermarkets.

Meanwhile, the Evanston Chamber of Commerce is surveying its members about the bag tax issue and plans to present the results of that survey at Tuesday’s meeting. Some merchants have said they fear a bag tax or ban would drive shoppers away from Evanston.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Let’s see if this is close…

    ALL the plastic bags in Evanston have the same effect as 5.2 cars worth of emissions.  There are about 57,000 cars in Evanston. That right so far?

    Alderpeople have nothing better to do with their time than look for new things to tax, so we find ourselves with a Bag Tax, that smacks the business community, and is passed along to the consumers. Or is it an outright ban on bags, and we have to BUY overpriced burlap sacks to carry with us whenever we're out, just in case. Still right?

    Putting aside the whole unsanitary, roach-infested, and dirty canvas bag or burlap sack reusable argument for a while, and just looking at being "green"…

    Assume that 10% of Evanston's cars will now drive double their usual shopping distances into Skokie, Niles, Wilmette, Chicago, and further afield to shop. I was never too good at maths, but that sounds like about 5,700 cars now ADDING to those CO2 emissions.

    It took about 30 seconds to figure out that it's going to cost more in pollution from the added cars driving further (of course, the pollution won't be in OUR green little town, so why care), increased use of roads, more wasted gas, less revenue (fewer tax $$ generated) for those in-town businesses  that have lost their customers to neighboring towns… 

    Short-sighted answers from short-sighted people who only want to perpetuate the myth that Evanston is progressive while we regress further into a pit of debt that the Blue-Nosed puritans in power refuse to acknowledge.


  2. Banning bags

    As someone who does not own a car and often shops in conjunction with travel to other destinations, the thought of lugging bags around for hours is not appealing. Bags I receive are used to recycle papers and bag garbage.(Disposals are not permitted in my building)

  3. Why Are We Focused on the Cost of Production?

    How did the once-important concern of untold billions of toxic, non-degradable discarded plastic bags clogging landfills, choking sea creatures, and otherwise destroying the planet for eternity get transformed into a clinical, mathematical exercise of determining the marginal amount fumes emitted by PRODUCTION of just one more such bag — that appears to be rather smugly and complacently proclaiming that "it's not so bad after all"? 

    Why are we focused on the environmental impact of PRODUCING the bags?  Rather akin, in my view, to the proverbial notion of painting the portholes on the Titanic.  The focus should be squarely on the lasting impact of DISPOSING of them.  With the majority of Evanston citizens blithely sending their garbage to the landfills neatly wrapped in plastic bags (not me — I insist on using only paper bags from the grocery store to encase my garbage) on a regular basis, it strikes me as shortsighted, hypocritical, or just oblivious to get worked up over the "fumes" involved in CREATING more bags — when these will likely also end up helping to destroy the earth.

    Perhaps we should be taxing bags based on how they are DISPOSED OF.  And maybe, to encourage that they be recycled, our wonderful Evanston recycling program should collect used plastic bags as well as all the other materials it currently takes.

  4. Bags

    This debate traces its origins back to the paper v. plastic controversy in the 90's (and the answer isn't clear cut as producing paper bags ain't exactly an  environmentally friendly process as it turns out).

    If our focus is on reducing emissions in Evanston, how about synchronizing traffic lights?

    1. What the City Government should give its attention to

      Like many people, I don't like plastic bags, but I do reuse them in my small trash containers.  Many people reuse them and would otherwise buy plastic trash liners or other plastic bags (bike seat covers is another popular reuse!).  If I don't reuse them, I bring them back to Dominick's or to Jewel for recycling.  They are a problem left blowing in the wind, but aren't there other, very easy things we can focus on first?

      I agree with the response "Bags".  Evanston should focus on something that could make a difference in pollution for Evanston, such as synchronizing traffic lights.  And, even better, have the traffic lights blink red (or yellow depending on which is the critical street) after 10:00 p.m..  I have wasted more gas sitting at a stop light with NO traffic more times than I can count.  Evanston just does not have any traffic after 10 pm.  When is the traffic engineering department going to realize that and stop wasting our gas and generating pollution? 

      If it is concerned about pollution, the City Council should focus it's attention on something such as these  suggestions.  Lots of room for improvement before taking on something that likely creates an enforcement nightmare – and creates yet more new laws.

  5. Reality

    I applaud the dedication of those environmentalists who want to advance this.  However, is this really a priority right now?  Evanston has huge issues with it's debt, unfunded pension liabilities, empty storefronts and now burgeoning crime.

    Honestly, if this is such a huge issue, can anyone explain to me why only 11 communities (in 5 states) have adopted either a tax or a ban on plastic bags? 

    The ban would equate to emissions savings from 5.2 cars per year?  Are you kidding me?

    Have the advocates for this analyzed the unintended consequences of this should it be enacted?  Impacts on Evanston businesses, consumers and the City of Evanston with perhaps consumer migration to neighboring communities to shop?

    In the most simplistic means, how about dog owners…. I cannot get plastic bags to pick up poop anymore?  Tell PetSmart they can no longer sell poop bags….. on and on and on… 

    It would appear that this is another pet project, akin to windmills, chickens and branch libraries. 

    Do not put this on the backs of Evanston businesses and consumers.  Do not make Evanston anymore business unfriendly than it already is.  And do not intrude on my personal life, as a consumer of Evanston and save us the guilt trip for using plastic bags.

    Amazing, just amazing what goes on in this deeply partisan town.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.