Evanston Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, has revived her proposal to tax shopping bags — but the new plan targets all disposable bags, not just plastic ones.

The revised plan, to be considered by the City Council Monday night, also cuts the proposed tax from 25-cents to five-cents per bag. And it specifies that the money raised should be used to fund programs at the city’s Ecology Center, mostly to promote the use of reusable shopping bags.

Store owners who failed to collect the tax could lose their city operating licenses and face a $200-a-day fine.

The ordinance would exempt a wide array of bags — including those used to contain bulk products, wrap frozen foods, plants, prepared foods and newspapers.

The draft ordinance claims that its purpose is to discourage use of disposable carryout bags, which, it says, have significant adverse impacts on the environment and frequently become litter and a source of visual blight.

The staff memo supporting the ordinance did not provide an estimate of how many bags would be subject to the tax or how much money the ordinance might raise.

Burrus withdrew the previous version of the ordinance last September after it appeared to face substantial opposition from other aldermen.

Related story

City eyes taxing plastic bags

Related link

The proposed bag ordinance

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. City Tax on Plastic Shopping Bags

    I oppose the tax on plastic shopping bags–they ARE reusable: in addition to carrying things to meetings, etc., I use them for my daily garbage. If I had to stop using them, I would have to buy some other kind of plastic bags for garbage, which would surely also mess up environment, so don't use the excuse that taxing the plastic bags would help the environment. It would just add another tax for the city to spend so they wouldn't have to rein in their spending like the middle class does in Evanston.
        And hasn't the City Council seen the reports about the bacteria carried when the cloth bags are reused? Do they want to make residents sick as well as taxing them out of the City?

  2. Bag tax

    It is one thing to offer an incentive to waste less plastic. Shops have to offer reusable bags as an alternative. What about good cloth bags? Chico bags? Those hold up extremely well.

  3. Reducing disposable bag use

    I enthusiastically applaud Alderman Burrus' courageous efforts to significantly reduce or eliminate the use of disposable bags in Evanston, an effort endorsed by our Environment Board. 

    Estimates show that Evanston uses more than 25 million plastic bags a year and more than 2.5 million paper bags each year. Not only does the surplus of plastic bags create an eyesore throughout our community, after leaving Evanston, they linger in landfills, oceans and rural areas for countless years, causing harm to wildlife and marine life. By consuming plastic bags, we are also contributing to our dependence on oil. And as it turns out, a popular alternative of using paper bags has been shown to be just as taxing on our environment. I encourage you all to please read this simple article from the Washington Post to learn more:

    Many urban areas around our country, including San Francisco and Washington DC, as well as countries and cities around the world have already taken action similar to the one being proposed in Evanston.  Those communities have witnessed dramatic reductions in use and their communities quickly adopted and embraced this change.  Of course, the “devil’s in the details” and it will take time to come to terms on the details of such a bill, but I hope we can all endorse the concept to ensure long-lasting benefits for generations of residents,  marine and wildlife in Evanston and around the world.

  4. Bag tax will simply raise prices of food and goods

    If passed, I'm sure this bag tax will reduce the use of disposable bags.

    On the other hand, the bag tax will increase the cost of food and goods and create another bureaucratic nightmare for retailers. I wonder how local retailers feel about Burrus' bag tax proposal? Let's not forget that reusable fabric-like polypropylene bags have high levels of lead and are a breeding ground for bacteria.

    Which city department is going to enforce the bag tax? Will more city employees need to be hired? Will this bag tax apply to the library, gas stations, museums, restaurants? What about people using food stamps and LINK cards – will they have to shell out more money for food? Does anyone really believe the bag tax proceeds won't eventually be raided and redirected for other uses other than the Ecology Center?

    The City Council last year raised the gas tax by two cents and for that I refuse to gas up in Evanston and I'm sure others do as well.

    These are tough economic times and there is absolutely NO reason to cause more stress on our fragile local economy. It wouldn't surprise me if our liberal City Council thinks these retailers are wealthy and need to be taxed more. I suppose City Council members think they deserve a pension for their hard work in raising taxes and utility rates.

    The City Council continues to nickel and dime its citizens and refuses to make the difficult budget cuts needed. I wonder how long it will take until a group of fiscal conservatives decide to run for office to change the way the Evanston government operates.

  5. bags, bags, bags

    There is a thing called benefit/cost ratio which should be applied to environmental issues and we should recognize that money is also a scarce resource (politicians are not aware of this yet). If we look at the total energy cost of bags then to equalize conservation plastic bags are to be used twice, paper three times and cloth/reusable bags over 100x.

    BTW plastic bags cost 2 cents, paper 3 cents, and "reusable bags" many times more.

    Bag the Bag Ban

    By: J. Justin Wilson
    Newspaper: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    Washington is considering banning plastic bags in order to discourage their use and save the environment. If consumers replace their plastic bags with reusable bags, we as a society will reduce our carbon footprint and keep plastic bags from entering our waterways and getting caught in our trees, right?

    Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Making one reusable bag requires about the same amount of energy it takes to produce 28 plastic bags. If every reusable bag were actually being used over and over again, of course, that wouldn’t be a big deal. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

    A new poll from Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) found that only 38 percent of shoppers nationwide take their reusable shopping bags out with them all or most of the time. A poll in San Francisco, where plastic bags are banned, found that 58 percent of shoppers forget to take reusable totes to the grocery store.

    As a result, unused “reusable” bags can have a much larger carbon footprint than the disposable (but recyclable) bags they replaced – and that’s before taking into account the fact that 93 percent of people reuse plastic bags to clean up after their dogs, line garbage cans, and perform other mundane tasks.

    Of course, some experts suggest wrapping meat in disposable plastic bags before putting them into reusable bags so as to reduce the risk of introducing bacteria like E. coli and coliform into the bags.

    “Wait, what was that about bacteria?” you might be asking. A recent University of Arizona study discovered that 12 percent of reusable bags were found to harbor E. coli bacteria and almost half were found to have coliform bacteria. The researchers found that “when meat juices were added to bags and stored in the trunks of cars for two hours the number of bacteria increased 10-fold indicating the potential for bacterial growth in the bags.”

    ORC found that 67 percent of Americans have washed their reusable bags either once or not at all over the last year. Washing these bags will eliminate the problem, but then you’re once again adding more to the environmental footprint, negating their supposed benefit.

    Then again, bacteria might not even be the biggest of your concerns. There’s all that lead these bags contain that you might want to consider.

    The Tampa Tribune recently conducted a study that showed a number of retailers were selling bags that contained more than 100 parts per million of lead – Winn-Dixie had a bag tested at 117 ppm while Publix had one bag clock in at 194 ppm. The Tribune’s results weren’t isolated. The Rochesterians Against the Misuse of Pesticides found that Wegmans was selling a bag that had lead at 799 ppm.

    So, in an effort to cut down on environmental concerns (and, not coincidentally, raise a little extra cash for fiscally challenged localities), lawmakers in Washington risk forcing their constituents to carry their food in breeding grounds of bacteria that have excess levels of lead and are not actually better for the environment. These are what we like to call “unintended consequences.”

    Unintended consequences are an inevitable result of government meddling in the marketplace. Let’s let consumers decide how they want to carry their groceries home.

    1. Were I eating bags..

      Vito please note the recent ordinance exempts bags acting as food containers.  The city isn't after the bags for your roast chuck, filet minion or cashews, but the bags you use to carry those things to your car.  When you consider the number of shopping age in the US against the one hundred billion plastic bags they use every year, that equates to roughly 428 bags per shopper per year.  Making reusable bags may be a more resource intensive process, and I would happily review any articles you have in that regard.  But one such bag more than pays for its environmental impact over the course of two shopping trips for a family when weighed against the impact of its disposable counter part. 

      1. Eating bags


        I am well aware that there are exceptions for wrapped food. The problem is those wraps do not completely seal the contents. I am discussing the items that leak on the conveyor belt and your reusable bag. Now they just use a plastic bag prior to inserting it into the outgoing grocery bag. Does this mean they have to have a different wrap at check out? At roughly 2 cents a bag if they use a grocery bag. About 10 sec lost at checkout if they have to use something differen,t and you have paid for another bag.

        At least Whole Foods gives you a positive incentive by removing 10 cents from your bill if you bring a bag and they do not use a paper bag (3 cents).

        I would prefer a positive approach rather than a negative approach — and taxes are negative.

        1. The real pollution

          The bag issue is a trivial and easy target issue.  You would get a lot more environmental savings by taxing [deposits] cans, bottles and esp. water bottles.

          Just look at those in the gutters and even lawns which owners won't pick-up.  I doubt the street sweepers or maintenance crews who clean lawns [esp. at NU, Roycemore, public schools] or pick-up trash bins can separate these out.

          Of course anyone who buys water in bottles has no economic sense anyway and from what blind taste tests and test of pollutants shows little common sense anyway, so they will continue to buy and toss [but not in recycle bins].   I'd really like to know who these bottled water people are—-I have some ocean front property in Arizona for sale that they would be sure to want.

  6. Paying to Pollute

    I think that we should bear the costs of our actions, and if our bags pollute, it makes sense to discourage excessive use. However, are we sure we want the money going toward the Ecology Center's anti-bag awareness fund? It might be easier to rally support if the funds went to roads, schools or direct efforts to clean the city. The tax itself would do a lot to raise awareness, without needing a push from the Ecology Center.

    1. Bags versus car pollution

       Many people walk or bike to/from the grocery—and that is after a day of doing other things and going directly to the grocery.  I have biked to the grocery for 20+ years and re-used the plastic bags until they tear. [No car and no need of one in Evanston.]

        I can fit five or six plastic bags in a back-pack—and not have them smell it up.  I can't really get that many cloth bags and then have it not produce a smell.

        If people are really so concerned about the environment, then they should put away their cars and walk/bike/CTA to the store—and most other places.  We should also do away with the city hall parking lot—employees should [must?] live in the city and thus take public transportation; create parking-lots at various locations so people can take a bus from them to the CTA trains and Metra—-e.g. Old Orchard, The 'real' cost of gas [cleaning up the pollution caused] would probably mean another $1-3 tax to pay for that.  Now these are just a few things that would really make a difference in contrast to some almost trivial [yes bags are a problem but that is people's stupidity that you can't do much about]. 

      Are the same people pushing the bag tax also cleaning up the cans, bottles, paper on their lawns ?  Or even re-cycle the cans/bottles/paper inside their homes ?  For the first, obviously not with all the cans and bottles we see on lawns and in the street/gutters, until a few people who really care about the pollution clean up for their neighbors and places where the don't even know anyone and of course NU and many other areas [ETHS is probably a site to be seen !]. And yes, many of the places with the most garbage on the lawns are from Lincoln to Isabella and Orrington to Ridge where the rich and probably pushing this ordinance live—easy two get a bag or two that could be re-cycled while out on a short jog.

  7. Bag Tax Makes Sense

    I get Marilyn's point about the plastic bags being reusable for garbage.  I used to do that too and now buy plastic trash bags instead. At first, that annoyed me.  But now I'm thinking that relatively few people probably re-use plastic shopping bags. They're usually way too small to be good garbage bags.  So, in the big picture, I think less plastic winds up in landfills if we discourage plastic grocery bags, etc

    As for the germs:  I have about a dozen nylon shopping bags.  I always put my fish in plastic at the store, so it doesn't leak on them.  Then I toss the shopping bags into the laundry every few weeks, along with a load of cleaning rags. 

    I've had most of these bags for about 3 years, which translates to over 200 uses.  And they're still in good shape.  I expect to get another 3 years out of them.

    Kudos to Ald. Burrus for sticking with this.  Remember, as Bill reports:  The ordinance would exempt a wide array of bags — including those used to contain bulk products, wrap frozen foods, plants, prepared foods and newspapers.


    1. Bag tax and complexity

      "The ordinance would exempt a wide array of bags — including those used to contain bulk products, wrap frozen foods, plants, prepared foods and newspapers."

      This adds a level of complexity and decision making at checkout.. How is the checkout process going to make the decision to apply or not apply the tax? This means redoing the software at checkout. When they wrap meat, fish, etc., do they use regular plastic bags, or do they use a different wrap?  All this adds complexity, time and cost, which will be there in addition to the tax.

      The nanny state grows.

      When will they pass a law that requires you to consume x grams of fiber?

      1. Bag tax and complexity

        Vito a number of concerns like this were raised several years ago when Evanstonians were crafting the climate action plan.  We're aiming to reduce some of the 23 thousand tons of CO2 emitted by our community every year through waste, and I for one see this ordinance as part of that process.  Evanston businesses would have to add a line item to their point of sale systems during check out.  Just as they have a code for oranges, Snickers bars, milk, or People magazine, so they would have a number for paper and plastic disposable carryout bags.  Adding such an item to the system inventory would take about five minutes.  Defining the object as "Disposable Carryout Bags – Checkout" should help and still remain within the 80 character limit defined by the Uniform Code Council for EAN-12 (retail) code numbers.

        1. Bag tax and business complxity


          This is just another drag on businesses that make this town inhospitable. Look at the dead storefronts.

          You state that it will take "5" minutes. Perhaps for the actual code insertion in the program. But it will require a purchase order, management time, employee time, etc.  That is more than a mere 5 minutes. And this is for all the various entities that use bags — not just Jewel or Dominick's. There will have to be decisions as to whether or not to charge for plastic — wrapping meat, plants, etc. Mere seconds. But add up the thousands upon thousands of transactions…

          Being "green" should require that money be considered a scarce resource.

          Mere mere externalities….



        2. Bags of the disposable kind

          How about those stores, such as Food4Less, where one does one's own bagging AFTER checkout? What then, environmentalists??? I'm sure there are much more important things for Evanstonians to worry about than bags.

  8. Bags

    A small tax to curb bag usage is a great idea if you want to reduce the # of bags used, but do we really have to blow the revenue on promoting something that is already on sale for $1.50 in nearly every checkout lane in town?

    A tax on externalities should be refunded to the people, not pumped into some greenwashed pet project.

    We are the supposed victims of "blight" here, we should get the money back, in full, as reduced tax obligations elsewhere.

    1. A tax on “externalities”

      Anonymous when you consider the impact disposable carryout bags have on the environment and our health its difficult to consider them "externalities", divorced from the civic life of our community.  Fact is recycling rates on paper and plastic bags are notoriously low; usually below five percent.  Paper bags not enshrined in the anaerobic conditions of a landfill will eventually biodegrade, but plastic only photo-degrades.  It breaks into little tiny pieces of plastic for ingestion by fish, and inclusion to every beach you'll ever walk.  Last I checked we had a number of seafood restaurants in Evanston.. Currently most Evanston trash goes to Lake County or just north of the Wisconsin line via transfer stations like the one Veolia operates along Church street.  In no way will residents of that area describe the noise and traffic that station generates as "external" to their daily lives.  Our use of disposable bags is part and parcel of degrading the environment where we live anonymous, not some academic "externality."   In the end there is no "away"..

  9. Get your facts straight Bill

    Bill with all due respect I must strenuously object to your reporting of Coleen's previous bag tax proposal.  Other alderman never had the opportunity to consider it, as it was never actually introduced to committee.  Coleen pulled it due to requests from myself and other activists because of several weaknesses in the language, including its targeting of plastic bags and the deposition of revenue to the general fund.  This latest version takes these issues into account, and I believe will provide a more constructive starting point for considering how to eliminate or seriously reduce our reliance on such bags.  How can you say other alderman objected to the proposal when it was never formally introduced to them?

  10. Recycling Could Be So Much Better!

    Referring back to the comment about recycling rates being notoriously low – many many times the "put your plastic bags here" bins in the entries of our local grocery stores are full to over-flowing.

    Recycling pick up for condos has been cut from twice a week to once a week. I can't speak for the entire city, but in my alley (mixed mid-rise condo buildings and single family homes) the recycling bins are full well before our scheduled pick up. 

    I realize that I, personally, am a far more conscientious recycler than the average citizen, having been at it since my college PIRG days when community-wide recycling was a new concept, but it appears to me that lots of folks are trying to recycle and are being thwarted in their attempts.

    Around the house we re-use our bags for everything from trash can liners to dog waste pick up and cat-litter disposal. I can't imagine PURCHASING plastic bags to throw away poop in!

    I take re-useable bags often, but not all the time. If they simply weren't available (think Sam's Club or Aldi) I suppose I'd learn to do a better job of remembering. But what I'd really like is to have a recycling option that actually functions and allows me to recycle the bags that I don't already re-purpose around the house.


  11. Vote with my feet

    I'll shop in Wilmette and Skokie to avoid this silliness.  Same goes for where I buy my gas.  Overtaxed and underserved!

  12. The right wants to get into

    The right wants to get into your bedroom; the left every other room. Control. Control. Control.

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