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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16 Comments

  1. I emailed Melissa Wynne asking her to vote against this business-killing measure and I encourage all like-minded individuals to do the same with their alderman (other than Mr. Reid, who is beyond salvation).

    Our city council needs to hear voices of reason instead of the radical echo chamber bubble they seem to be stuck in.

  2. I have stopped shopping in Chicago. I guess I will stop shopping in Evanston as well. I refuse to buy gas in Evanston, and downtown is vacant. It’s another tax to fund the broken Evanston government and schools.

  3. Why shouldn’t we have the highest bag tax in the US? That way, we can have food deserts just like Chicago (for different reasons). Also, with the highest bag taxes in the US we can ease the burden on EPD as theft and shoplifting will be a thing of past. Devon and Bobby are really smart guys. Make that bag tax $5 per bag — no more parking issues either!

    Oh wait…where did all the business go and what happened to our sales tax revenue? Let’s raise the restaurant tax to make up for the list revenue! Where did the restaurants go?

    I thought we could tax ourselves to prosperity…

  4. I’ll be shopping in Wilmette or Skokie, as will many others. How dare Devon Reid expect Evanstonians to spend their money on another tax when he doesn’t even pay his own rent? Something is wrong here.

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

    And this will “better incentivize” people to avoid shopping in Evanston…

  6. Is Evanston trying to tax it’s residents out of Evanston? It sure seems to be headed In that direction.

  7. This is strictly a measure to make some Alderpersons and committee members feel better about themselves at the expense of local business, with no material benefit to the environment. For this type of measure to have any real impact, it must be imposed statewide, so that it cannot be avoided by driving ten minutes, and so that the impact is enough that it could actually be measured.

  8. This would be a great way to solve our other issue of high retail vacancies downtown……

    And let me guess where any additional revenue from this higher bag tax will eventually end up……

    Our City leadership strives for Evanston to win the race on numerous fronts and we seem to be winning the race…to the bottom.

  9. I think the goal of reducing plastic bags is good. But as usual Evanston seems to be going about it the exact wrong way: punishing people. (I realize it’s not actually punishment, but that’s how a lot will see it.)

    Why not start with a consistent messaging campaign? In front of grocery stores, at checkout counters, public buildings, etc. THEN give notice of upcoming fees for litter cleanup and plastic handling. THEN give a stronger warning. THEN put the fees in place once people understand what they’re for. Behavior and cultural change is gradual and messages needs to be repeated over and over.

    Jumping directly to ‘punishment’ is not going to work. Either people (like me sometimes, unfortunately) won’t care and will pay the extra fees, or they’ll avoid Evanston out of principle. It won’t reduce plastic use.

    1. Good suggestions. It seems like a very bad time to start punishing people. Whole foods has long given a bag credit..way to go? That said, in Europe you often have to buy bags. But going to the town next door won’t make it cheaper for you because it is the same everywhere…much easier to implement without punishing local businesses ..

  10. Why bother with such small numbers? Just make it 50 cents and transfer the money to the reparations fund. I have a feeling such deal will be announced shortly after new bag tax gets approved

  11. I support the bag tax. I’m lazy AF, and I currently forget my reusable bags more than I remember them. Having a higher fee would probably incentivize me to remember to bring them more often. I imagine it would incentivize others as well. Discouraging plastic bag use has to actually hurt in order for people to stop using them. I hope other cities move in this direction as well so we can start to make a dent in our waste problem.

  12. I quit driving downtown a long time ago, we can shop some where else too. Actually, if I weren’t so old, we could move too. After 44 years it’s easier to dodge the persecutor-minded City Council and alderman and consider I am living under a punishable regime. This has led to regretting I ever moved here in the first place, raised my kids here (and they don’t live here, thank God.)

  13. No, please. Nothing more unwelcoming than fees…Do you know how many fees Evanston businesses already pay, and have to pass on to customerS? Fee to put up a poster, sidewalk info, etc, etc. Parking meter system and bag fees are real turnoffs, esp for out of town, unwary guests, plus elderly people who have less agility and sometimes have trouble just carrying their purse, and getting the reusable food bag washed….No, please!

  14. For Pete’s sake just carry re-usable bags when you go to the grocery store already. It’s 2022. We know what plastic bags do to the environment and the mess we’re making for our children and grandchildren.

    It’s not a big deal to keep them in your purse, glove compartment, pocket, backpack, whatever.

    1. Andy, do you shop every day? How do your 3-7 reusable bags fit in your glove compartment , purse or handy place to bring the next time you plan to go to a store? How many children do you have? I go to the grocery store 1x/week and , because I can’t carry heavy weights up the stairs, I use at least 4 plastic bags or 3 paper shopping bags. I reuse these for recycling newspaper and other paper and boxes or for cat litter for my indoor cats. It would be nice if plastic bags were made of material that disintegrates in the dumps like dog waste bags.

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