If Evanston City Council approves a 15-cents-per-bag fee on paper and plastic shopping bags, it would place Evanston among locations with the priciest such taxes in the United States.

Bag taxes are becoming more popular as an effort to push customers into bringing reusable bags, thus avoiding an extra charge at the checkout counter.

But the Evanston proposal, which goes to City Council’s Human Services Committee on Monday, is more than double the seven-cents-per-bag add-on across the city line in Chicago.

Oak Park, a Chicago suburb often compared to Evanston for both quality of life and cost-of-living, charges 10 cents. Plus, only stores with more than 5,000 square feet are covered.

The Evanston ordinance, as now proposed, impacts retailers of any size.

Originally, the Evanston bag tax suggested by city staff earlier this year was 10-cents-per-bag as well.

But Ald. Devon Reid (8th) and Bobby Burns (5th), leading sponsors of the measure, called for the higher amount, which was endorsed by the city’s Envivonment Board last month.

Board minutes indicate Reid and Burns said the 15-cent fee “would better incentivize not using disposable bags.”

Board Co-chair Cherie LeBlanc Fisher agreed, saying, “it’s inconvenient for us to do things that are good for the environment,” but we have to start somewhere.

Fellow board member Kim Marion Suiseeya wondered if the tax could bag-fire (okay, backfire), creating an “envionmental backlash” of citizens saying “there they go again” with more fees but insufficient justification for a public buy-in.

However, the board did vote to recommend passage by Council.

An informal internet search of bag taxes and fees around the nation found most of the places listed charged below 15-cents per bag, according to website “Bag the Ban,” and other state and local web pages.

California has a statewide fee of 10 cents per bag, although municipalities can go higher.

New York City charges a nickel. Same with Washington, D.C. Fairfax County, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland, are also five cents.

Evanston-esque Boulder, Colorado, charges ten cents per single-use bag.

In Illinois, both Edwardsville and Woodstock have ten-cent fees.

Some places are higher than what Evanston is now considering.

Fort Collins, Colorado, another college town, is at 12 cents. Aspen, Colorado, is at 20 cents. And San Francisco is at 25 cents per bag, the City by the Bay taking advantage of California’s law allowing cities to go higher than the statewide minimum.

The above list is not comprehensive, but it does show a pattern that was not difficult to find.

The proposed Evanston bag tax also has fewer exemptions than are allowed in many other localities.

For example, some places exempt dry cleaning bags from any fee. As originally written, Evanston would have done the same thing.

But dry cleaners were cut from the exemption list in the latest plan, as were restaurants.

It’s possible that additional exemptions will be put back by City Council.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) has said he’s interested in including restaurants.

The Evanston ordinance also bans all thin plastic bags effective April 1, 2024. The tax on paper bags would remain, but all such bags provided by stores would have to be made of at least 40% recyclable materials.

During the Environment Board meeting, Reid said that the bag tax and plastic bag ban ordinance “upholds our city’s values” of trying to fight climate change, reduce waste, and encourage recycling.

He also noted, however, that Council “could play the bad guys” by rejecting or modifying some of what’s proposed in that ordinance.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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