Evanston aldermen Monday sharply criticized the city’s Environment Board for failing to consult with business owners about a proposed tax on plastic and paper shopping bags.

Several aldermen also said they would prefer voluntary efforts to reduce the use of disposable bags.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the City Council had told the Environment Board months ago when it last brought up the bag restrictions to meet with the business community, but the board had failed to do so.

“The disconnect between the Environment Board and small businesses in Evanston is huge,” Fiske said.

Fiske, who owns a pet supply store downtown, said, forcing businesses to collect a new tax “is unconscionable” in a time of economic strain.

Fiske said the tax would impose costly accounting responsibilities on store owners and require them to upgrade their cash register software.

“This will make the difference to some businesses between staying open and not staying open,” Fiske claimed.

“We’ve got to stop treating this as a ‘warm fuzzy’ issue,” Fiske added. She said the proposal would exempt most restaurants, drycleaners and a variety of other businesses, so it wouldn’t really eliminate plastic bags, but it would impose a severe burden on some retailers.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the city is trying to achieve a goal of reducing the amount of material that ends up in landfills and blows around the streets, but he doesn’t believe the tax would accomplish the goal.

“This is a punishment, another tax. We’re evolving into a culture where we try to punish people for doing something we don’t like,” Wilson said.

The proposed tax, he said, would create resentment and frustration, even among people who typically use reusable bags, but may need a few disposable ones to clean up after their dog or cat.

In all, six aldermen spoke against the proposal.

Top: Alderman Judy Fiske. Above: Alderman Coleen Burrus.

The only alderman to defend it was Colleen Burrus, 9th Ward, who said “Fines help change behavior.”

Burrus said she was offended that she would go into Walgreens for a greeting card and the clerk would end up putting it in a plastic bag. She also suggested that the city should ban plastic bags from the city-operated farmers market.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the Environment Board had not provided enough information to make a decision on the proposal.

She suggested that either the board “should do a much more thorough, much less biased review of the issue, or ask city staff to do it.”

The aldermen took no formal vote on the issue and Laurie Zoloth a member of the Environment Board said the group was prepared to do further research.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Thank you Ms. Fiske and a wag of the finger to Ms. Burrus

    Come election time Ms Burrus may find that not being re-elected ALSO helps change behavior. Please be more in touch with your Evanston businesses. And if you go to Walgreens, open your mouth and refuse the bag before you're offered one as many of us do on a daily basis rather than getting offended. It's quite effective and free! Maybe you need a tax to change your behavior, however the majority of us reuse plastic and paper bags or at the very least recycle them. If you have ever gone to Whole Foods you know that there is refund for using your own shopping bag(s) and this reward system works quite well. THANK YOU to the voices of reason who spoke up.

  2. I try to direct the store

    I try to direct the store clerk I am dealing with as to what kind of packaging I prefer or none. Aldi has it right, the consumer pays for a bag if they want/need one. This is a way to remind you to bring one or pay when you forget. Consumers are the ones that need to change their behavior. Retailers are simply providing a convenience.

  3. “Disconnected”about bags

    The only disconnect I see here is that some of our leaders just don't "get it" (I'm curious, how many of these businesses have sustainability officers in their organizations?)…  and that we (and "we" encompasses ALL of us) are trashing this world…  Having to upgrade software and slightly modify business practices is not to much to ask in the cause of advancing environmental responsibility.

    Everyone should be asking themselves this question… Where do most of those bags go when we are done with them? And I am talking about everyone not just those committed to the three "R's"  To suggest that "the majority of us reuse, or at the very least recycle them" is a great goal but IMHO, wishful thinking…

    Anonymous seems to do a lot of finger wagging under the cloak of anonymity …  So I am publically acknowledging and giving kudos to Coleen Burrus for having the good sense and courage to "put her guts on the table" on this issue.  She is my alderperson and I am voting for her come election time!

    Respectfully submitted, Brian G. Becharas
    P.S.  I do think Aldi has it right… (pay-per-bag) and so does Whole Foods with a great policy of 10 cent credit or directed to a donation!
    P.P.S. Want to learn more ? – there is a good movie about this – please see link below:


    1. Talk about “disconnected”!

      Re: how many of these businesses have sustainability officers in their organizations?

      Oh my.  How disconnected can you be?  How many chiefs do you think small business around town have to watch over the Indians?  There is usually the owner and a handful of staff.  We're not talking about a big corporate entity unless you are focused only on the big retail chain stores!? 

      As other posters have noted … simply refuse the bag if you don't need it.  Example, yesterday I stopped into Lemoi to purchase a small item.  I paid and went on my merry way without the bag.  I frequently do this – as do others – at small local businesses as well as at the major retailers (e.g., Walgreen's among others.)unless the number of items or need necessitates an easy way to transport my purchase. 

      This bag tax discussion is for a worthy aim – outreach and education on why and ways to reduce our plastic trash – but is a solution far out of scale to the effectiveness it strives for. 

      There are better ways to alter behavior (awareness campaigns, and the ideas of other retailers such as Whole Foods, Aldi, etc.) than government enforcement/penalty intervention … the creation of more governmental infrastructure is the last thing we need in these times, second only to no need for more taxes and penalties.

      1. Sustainability Officers

        As the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of several enterprises over the years… I know it only takes one person who cares to make (and take) the effort to act locally while thinking globally.  If that is the owner, manager, secretary, mailroom person. That works for me!

    2. Byzantine bags


      Bags and their disposition is a problem. The apporach that Whole Foods takes is a positive step. The approach that the the Environment Board takes, and labels as a "moral" issue (please!), is punitive and has byzantine consequences. That they did not confer with the business community is a gross error.

      If you bother to link to
      see pp 55 on

      You will find an ecoanlysis of bags. It turns out that polyethylene bags are ecologically superior to compostable bags. Paper bags are worse. As for reusable cloth bags, in theory they sound great. However they do accumulate food liquids and debris and have to be washed for safety reasons. That does not help their carbon and water profile. In the end, from a carbon viewpoint, plastic bags are preferred.

      The exceptions are what bother me most. How will a restrictive bag ordinance be handled? Much time was spent in the Council on the cost issue of the Township, yet there was little discussion of cost enforcing a proposed bag ordinance. Will there be bag police? How much additional staff or staff time will be needed? Will there be an Office of Bag Compliance? The exceptions seem byzantine. Supermarkets, dry cleaners, restaurants — all with different criteria?

      You have noticed that the number of checkout people has decreased and the major grocery chains are trying to get people to use self check out. It is all about cost. Plastic bags are preferred because they are faster to pack and they are cheap. You should also be aware that baggers are fewer in number. Some of them are developmentally handicapped, and trying to get them to make all the subtle distinctions and exceptions will be difficult. It will add time to checkout and possible fines for the store, that could result in elimination of those jobs. I have an autistic grandnephew who works for a supermarket  in a Western suburb and his hours are being cut. This will only make it more difficult for this job market.

      Let us get real.

      1. Common Sense

        Thank you, Vito for your insight and the facts to back your post. 

        The Environment Board had several months to confer with the community and provide information and facts for Evanston consumers and businesses to review. One has to wonder, if you feel that strongly about an issue why the homework wasn't done? Also, as previously stated, a tax in this economy makes no sense and enforment by "punishment" will only serve to drive consumers away.

    3. If Burrus has it so right

      then why would she approve this? and why would you get indignant when the research was not done for this tax? Why were the businesses to be impacted not spoken with and why do you think you can speak for them?  If you want to pay per bag you are in the vast minority. If you do not do some form of reuse and recycling when bins are provided to your home and at grocery stores through out Evanston I would say you are again in the minority. Burrus' guts on the table have nothing to do with the issue at hand and add nothing to the reasoning for this tax. You are proposing that this tax will fix the problem and that any business or consumer inconvenience is of no consequnce in the name of "not trashing this world". Read again the part about dry cleaning, to go packages and so on. This tax would not change any of that.

  4. Alderman Burrus, instead of

    Alderman Burrus, instead of feeling offended when the store clerk puts your single greeting card in a plastic bag, maybe you should do what the rest of us consumers do. We exercise something called common sense and tell the clerk no. I know the staement you made makes you sound out of touch, and worse, clueless. But as an elected official you should know that it is not smart to threaten the constituents with another tax. They tend to remember those thing come election time.

  5. Puh-lease, use common sense

    We don't need a tax, we need citizens who just say no to the bags. It is foolish and wasteful to accept all the bags we are offered; adding another tax and administrative burden is silly and more wasteful. If Evanstonians want to be greener, they need to first act greener. It's much more efficient.

    Or let's add a real tax of $1 per bag. That would have a more profound and much quicker effect.

  6. Bag Tax (or pay-per-bag), A quick look at what others achieved

    A quick Google can lead you down the path of your choice…  here are a few from the top 10 when "plastic bag recycling" is entered into the search box of Google.

    Plastic Bag Tax: Small Incentive, Big Result : Planet Money : NPR
    Sep 20, 2010 – A five-cent tax on plastic shopping bags has cut the use of the bags by more than half in Washington, D.C. It's a compelling example of how a …

    Plastic Bags Used in DC Drop From 22 Million to 3 Million a Month


    1. The real story – seach DC bag tax 2011 don’t look at 2010.


      A new report finds the bag tax that Washingtonians have been paying for more than a year now to be a job killer and economic loser. The study, commissioned by Americans for Tax Reform and conducted by the Beacon Hill Institute, examines the economic fallout of the D.C. bag tax.
      One of the more annoying taxes ever devised, the levy covers even those little plastic bags that Subway puts your foot-long in. Macy's has to charge a bag tax with all purchases storewide for the simple reason that it sells Godiva chocolates.

      According to the report, the bag tax will result in the elimination of more than 100 local jobs and precipitate a $5.64 million decline in aggregate disposable income for 2011. The majority of this income would have been spent in the District and, as a result of the bag tax, D.C. will now needlessly forgo an additional $108,340 in sales tax revenue and will see investment drop by $602,000, with the bulk of the loss occurring in the retail sector.

      Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/2011/02/study-finds-dc-bag-tax-ineffective#ixzz1c0AuILfu

  7. Bag tax should have been voted down once and for all

    Every aldermen except one spoke against a bag tax and yet there was no vote.

    The City Council should have put this bag tax to bed. But now the bag tax still lives another day, causing undue anxiety among business owners and sending a negative message to potential business owners.

    The Environmental Board showed it's utter lack of respect and understanding of the local economy and should be totally embarrased for not including business owners in the bag tax discussion.

    This is the SECOND time the Environmental Board sent a bag tax proposal to the City Council.  Something should be done about the irresponsible Environrmental Board. They're out of control.

    Voting down a bag tax would have been a good start. Why the City Council didn't do that I can only guess.

  8. Plastic bag ban experience in WA

    Check out this story on the experience in Bellingham WA with a plastic bag ban and a fee plan in Seattle that failed.

    Note this item in the story per the Seattle plan failure…

    "After the ordinance was adopted in 2008, the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying arm of the plastics industry, paid signature gatherers to qualify a referendum for the August 2009 primary. The group then poured $1.4 million into a campaign to defeat the bag fee."

    1. Think before you act

      The moral of this is that you should think about all the consequences, especially the law of unintended consequences.

      Positive rewards encourage, punitive actions and governmental complexity discourage.

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