Evanston alders Monday will consider two new restrictions on local businesses — a 15-cent bag tax and a requirement that retailers accept cash for all transactions.

The bag tax ordinance — replacing an existing city ban on thin plastic bags at large retail stores — would be the most restrictive in the state — imposing the tax on carryout single use bags of any thickness, paper and compostable bags from all stores, with some exceptions, and completely banning plastic single-use point-of-sale bags and produce bags starting on April 1, 2024.

Only four other communities in Illinois restrict bag usage. Chicago has a 7-cent fee, and Edwardsville, Oak Park and Woodstock have 10-cent fees, on paper and plastic bags.

The proposed requirement to accept cash for retail transactions comes as one major restaurant chain in the Chicago area, Portillo’s has announced that it will no longer accept cash at its drive-thrus.

A company spokesman says the change, taking effect next week, was driven by concerns about “the safety of Portillo’s team members and more efficient operations to benefit restaurant guests.”

Portillo’s doesn’t have any shops in Evanston, but Hewn Bakery on Central Street has been limiting customers to credit or debit card transactions as a health and safety measure since the pandemic.

Advocates say the must-take-cash rule protects the rights of unbanked customers, while opponents say refusing to accept cash eliminates the risk of thefts and reduces crime rates in general.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. So we are losing stores and customers in Evanston. We have ridiculous parking apps. So let’s add more restrictions for businesses Let’s hire a consultant to figure what seems obvious

    1. I maintain that if I wrote a story about my time living in Evanston it would be called: “Evanston: The Story of How I Became a Libertarian.”

      I say this as someone who considers herself relatively left of center politically.
      The solution is not more regulation. Period.
      Stop. Let’s have some faith in our business owners and patrons to figure it out. We don’t need for city government to intervene here.

      There are real problems, like I don’t know, insane crime, that need to be addressed. Please put your energy there.

  2. Except for a Covid break, I’ve used cloth bags for years.
    However, I also use plastic or paper bags for individual food items for food safety or to protect food quality.
    For example, raw meat as packaged in the meat department can still leak, potentially contaminating other foods so I overwrap it with a thin plastic bag.
    Raw produce, such as leaf lettuce, also carries bacteria, so it’s placed in plastic.
    Produce quality is also important.
    Can you imagine putting an unwrapped head of lettuce, tender tomatoes or grapes in a cloth bag along with five or six other foods including a package of raw ground beef on the trip home? Food and dollar waste could result.
    How about the logistics of checkout? Do you approach the cashier with a handful of broccoli?
    That could be what Alders are proposing:
    “completely banning plastic single-use point-of-sale bags and produce bags starting on April 1, 2024.”
    If so, I recommend the alders be required to become the sole grocery shoppers for their households for one month and further be required to shop a supermarket at least once a week (to avoid switching to restaurant alternatives). Then they can decide the extent to which Evanston residents can handle their bag proposals.

    1. Approach a cashier with a loose handful of broccoli is not what is being proposed. The proposed ordinance has the following exemptions from the bag tax/ban:
      o A bag provided by a pharmacist that contains a prescription drug;
      o A newspaper bag;
      o A bag to package loose produce items inside stores and farmers’ markets, bags
      to package bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, candy, or small
      hardware items, and frozen foods, meat or fish, prepared foods or bakery goods.
      o A gift bag

      It appears you will still be able to wrap meat and produce in bags.

  3. No, and no. I grocery shop at most, 1x/week and just for one person. At that, because I can’t use my right hand to carry much, I get several lightly loaded plastic bags and a paper bag for recycling my newspapers and other papers that takes care of my weekly groceries. If I still had dependents or my husband, a couple recyclable bags would not be adequate. I used to be able to use Treasure Island bags a number of times that were lined with replaceable paper bags, but they are too large for me now. I reuse the plastic bags to dispose of every other day used cat litter. Hasn’t it been well publicized that there is quite a bit of energy used to make a recyclable bag? I don’t want my groceries repeatedly used in a cloth bag, do you? As to allowing cash transactions, it really is a business decision. It used to be that stores preferred cash if the bill were under $10 due to credit card fees. Now I think there is real concern among some businesses, esp near Howard St., about robbery if they have lots of cash. There are so many rules and regulations to starting a business and doing business in Evanston, please let’s not add more while there is still a choice of where to go.

    1. I challenge the comment,

      ” Now I think there is real concern among some businesses, esp near Howard St., about robbery if they have lots of cash. ”

      The writer has absolutely no evidence, and this kind of reputational bashing is what kept our neighborhood down for years. The businesses on Howard St, do in fact take cash. Good to Go, Ward 8, Peckish Pig, Sweet Temptations, etc. We have paid bills in cash well in excess of $100 and these businesses are happy to have us as customers.

      The bashing is unnecessary and the policy has nothing to do with the lingering biases that very few Evanstonians still harbor about Howard Street, which by the way has become a great street.

  4. I’m no clean freak, but the sight of reusable bags, proudly and repeatedly dumped on checkout conveyer belts, which are then dragged back home with a filthy payload of damp vegetables, then likely left wadded up in a dark pantry till next time never fails to disgust me

  5. Skeptic,
    Thank you for the details.

    Bill, shoppers may not know how to care for cloth bags.
    The following recommendations are more rigorous than the steps I take, but give some idea of what should be done.

    Launder cotton or canvas totes in a washing machine on a high-heat setting and add bleach or a disinfectant containing sodium percarbonate like Oxi Clean™.
    Dry totes on the highest dryer setting or use sunshine to sanitize: turn washed bags inside-out and place them outside in direct sunlight to dry — for at least an hour; turn right-side out and repeat. “Ultra-violet light occurs naturally from sunlight is effective at killing 99.9% pathogens like viruses and bacteria,” Ryan Sinclair says.
    Ryan Sinclair, PhD, MPH, associate professor at Loma Linda University School of Public Health says his research confirms that reusable grocery bags, when not properly disinfected, are carriers for both bacteria, including E. coli, and viruses — norovirus and coronavirus.

    1. But Bev, you are employing common sense. Unfortunately, some shoppers are too far gone. Generation of hot water adds to global warming. Sodium percarbonate? Besides being sold in plastic bottles, it must be toxic. And the filth is a feature, not a bug, because, you know, all natural.

  6. The city council only has themselves to blame for the horribly unfriendly business climate in Evanston. These new measures will result in more empty storefronts – and forget about anyone moving into the existing empty storefronts.

  7. I’ve noticed that many businesses in Evanston have replaced the thin, disposable plastic bags with thicker ones marked “reusable”. This seems to be a work around to the current rules but in actuality only consumes more plastic. Will this ban still allow those types of bans? If so, it seems pointless.

    1. Hi Kari,
      As explained in the story, initially the thick plastic bags would be taxed, like the thin ones. But as of April 2024, those plastic bags, and the thin ones, would be banned completely for most uses.
      — Bill

  8. This is simply another excuse for a money grab by the city. Business, especially small independent business have had an extremely challenging few years with covid and the negative effects of covid are still very present, not to mention the inflation and supply issues that have compounded those challenges. And while business is still working in this environment a couple of aldermen and a few city staff have decided its a great time to pile further hardship onto local business. It’s a slap in the face to local owned business operations, it’s an insult coming from people who have never started or operated a business, created even one single job or generated a single penny in sales tax revenue to the community.

    The study, paid for by a municipality looking for an obviously desired conclusion, consists of some college students standing in a couple grocery stores “observing” customer behavior for 40 minutes over a handful of days. A total of 14,168 “observations” spread over months in a metropolitan area with literally millions of daily retail transactions. This exercise then claims up to a 40% drop in bag use but has not been confirmed with any real or factual data whatsoever. Why have these exercises not studied whether wholesale bag sales have fallen by a corresponding 40% and why is the industry projecting continued growth in bag usage? Might that challenge all the “observations” and academic equations developed to justify their claims? Due diligence would look to confirm the indications developed by the study, but of course that doesn’t happen, city staff just parrots the study results as factual, even when the studies note they are indicative, not conclusive, and the studies also deliberately claim no conclusions of overall environmental benefit. The study does conclude as a big benefit the monies collected by municipalities. It’s a story line with good optics being widely used to justify another simple money grab by states and municipalities and nothing more.

  9. Comments are leaning almost exclusively AGAINST this measure. It is yet another, in a long list of unfriendly regulations, placed on businesses and consumers in Evanston, and I am glad to see people raising their voice against them. I wonder if the Evanston City Council will start to listen to the people instead of themselves. I wonder if the Evanston City Council will ever try to increase revenue into the city by growing businesses in Evanston instead of growing taxes/fees on businesses.

  10. A great piece of reporting here would be to analyze the “why?” And then fact check it. For example, if the reason is to be more green, I encourage you all to research the statistics around what is actually more green and how many uses a reusable needs to be greener and then ask yourself, would most people use that reusable that many times? The answer may shock you.

  11. The leadership in Evanston is more concerned about virtue signaling and solving the world’s problems than it is in serving their constituents and building a thriving community in their own backyards (which can help solve the world’s problems).
    Their failure is evidenced in the rapidly closing storefronts and restaurants that are staining what could be an otherwise superior retail destination in terms of location, community, natural beauty, and a world-class university.
    Meanwhile Wilmette, Winnetka, and the like are literally eating our lunch.
    Can’t wait for the upcoming conversation blaming business owners for leaving. That record, like the bad record of Evanston leadership, has been skipping for too long.
    Maybe seek ways to get the unbanked, banked? Offer businesses tax incentives to NOT use plastic bags (rather than punishing them for using them)?
    Evanston keeps screaming “don’t come here” and it’s getting louder and louder.

  12. Our City Council, specifically Devon Reid, is grasping at straws to be relevant, be woke, be visionary, be able to see around corners, and end racism. To the contrary they are chasing lame and ineffective virtuous ideas, promoting and enabling racism of ALL varieties, closing barn doors after the horses escaped, and ensuring Evanston’s decline into a haven for vagrants seeking to milk us of our numerous, City Council presented and welcoming social services.

    From comments on this great article and others, it is apparent that many sleepy Evanstonians are finally waking up!!

    While an election is far off, we all can vote now with our wallets, our realtors helping us relocate, and our raising of voices to plead that our elected officials wake up!!!

    1. Devon Reid wants to keep parks open 24/7 and make it legal to carry “burglar tools.”
      You know like a hack saw, lock picks, etc. IMO if you are not a legit locksmith and have a bag of these tools you should be questioned. But whatever let’s keep the parks open 24/7 365 and see what that does to the nature and wildlife. Not to mention the increase in costs, cleanup, electricity, crime, drug, and alcohol use.

  13. McDonald’s is one company that requires its headquarters staff to work in one of its restaurants once a year, so they have a better understanding of how the policies they enact affect the restaurants.
    I am completely serious in my suggestion that council members must volunteer in a small business in their ward once a year for a better understanding of what it’s like to run a small business in Evanston.

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