Plastic shopping bag

All those plastic shopping bags emblazened with a “thank you” from the store’s owner might soon also carry a “thank you” from the city.

That’s because, if a proposed new ordinance up for discussion Monday is adopted by the Evanston City Council, you’ll be paying the city a 25-cent tax for every disposable plastic shopping bag you get.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, who proposed the measure, says she wants to discourage use of the bags, arguing that their production and disposal damages the environment.

She says the tax would encourage customers to use reusable shopping bags instead.

The ordinance would also bar store owners from reimbursing customers for the cost of the disfavored bags.

The ordinance contains a long list of exemptions — ranging from bags for fruit and vegetables to bags for nails and bolts and also covering bags for potted plants and newspapers.

The ordinance would require store operators to itemize the number of bags used and the total tax charged. 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Plastic bag tax

    How the hell do you police this?

    With all the exemptions we will need a city inspector at each check out counter to verify compliance.

    Will we need a permit for the exemptions?

    This will add 50 cents to a dollar plus for each shopping trip. A great reason to shop in Wilmette or Skokie.

    This is not green, this is poultry defecation.

  2. Good Idea

    Such a fee would gently encourage recycling, increase personal responsibility (bringing your own bag to the market-or refusing the bag when offered and not needed) and help increase revenue for the City.  All good things.  

    That is all.


  3. How Stupid

    hmmmm…Jewel on Green Bay in Evanston, or Sheridan in Wilmette…Wilmette it is! Not because I use plastic bags (because I agree that they aren’t enviromentlly friendly) but to tax them to get people to use them is pathetic, and just another reason my Evanston home is for sale. Too much of this BS.

    1. Yet another tax?

      Not only stupid, but will assure that I NEVER, EVER shop in Evanston again. Jewel in Wilmette, Skokie, Chicago. Dominicks in Lincolnwood, or Skokie. Meijers in Niles. WalMart in Niles (2 of them), and the numerous smaller markets on Oakton and Dempster in Skokie, the ethnic markets in Chicago, Niles, Skokie. Small butcher shops. . . The options OUTSIDE OF EVANSTON are endless and the variety considerably greater.

      And what about the plastic bags at booksellers?  Other shops?

      Over the years the council drove out the commercial and manufacturing tax base. Now they’re going to drive out the grocery stores with an almost impossible to track tax.

      The only ones this will hurt are those that cannot travel to do their shopping. Consider: Who are those least likely to have cars? Who are least likely to travel by a decimated public transport system for a week’s or month’s worth of groceries? The handicapped. The disabled. Seniors, shut-ins. Those on fixed income. Those with low income.

      Are there NO limits to the greed of those running the city?


  4. Leave My Bags Alone!

    Really? Really! Taxing the usage of plastic bags? I’m just waiting for the day the City Council figures out a way to tax air!

    I actually love these bags because I reuse them to empty the bathroom trash cans at my house plus (and this is a big "plus") they make for great poop bags for my dog! If they tax my poop bags I’m gonna boycott by leaving my pooper scooper at home!

  5. Shop elsewhere

    I guess I have to drive another 1/4 mile and shop at the Jewel on Greenbay in Wilmette instead of the Dominicks. No problem for me. Just one more reason to shop anywhere but Evanston. And what are they going to do about my Pea Pod plastic shopping bags? Wonderful idea Evanston!

  6. This is crass

    Close to three years ago, I entertained a suggestion from someone to move to Evanston. I decided not to because of all of the dumb decisions being made by Evanston’s government. This is a wonderful example of the lack of thought by those in a position on power. To tax the use of plastic bags is absurd. I pray this idiotic idea does not get implemented, if it does, I only buy things in Evanston when I have no choice!

  7. One Baffled Economist

    The city of Evanston continues to baffles me at every turn, although after 8 years I should not be surprised.
    As someone with a degree in economics, I’m completely amazed at the absolute lack of basic understanding of economic conditions and how government actions and taxes influence people decisions.
    Reading the post about the bag tax perfectly illustrates how many people may react to this tax. Yet, no one (in this case one alderman) in city government has the foresight to rationally walk through effect of government actions or inactions before they blurt out some questionable idea.
    You can see it with the bag tax, the recent Library Boards actions, the city’s many failed low income housing projects, the pensions problems, duplicate services of the township, to name a few.
    Did the alderman think at all about how this could impact business in the city? How it would be implemented? Who would enforce it? How it might affect shopper’s behaviors? Is this a regressive tax? Would / can shoppers go elsewhere for these services? Is the tax high enough to encourage them to shop elsewhere
    What business are included and not included?  Would this just lead to a switch back to paper bags? Do we tax paper bags too? If people shop in other towns will the new bag tax offset the losses in other sales tax?
    Will the shops in Evanston lose jobs or will businesses close and move because of a lower demand for their services?
    Did the Alderman think or research any of these questions before bring this up as a new tax?
    It is no shock to me this city, county, state and country are bankrupt with these continued actions by our government entities.
    One Baffled Economist           
    1. Baffled economist

       Dear Baffled Economist,

      Your surge of sanity is totally displaced in the Peoples Republic of Evanston where the PC do good elite savants rule. How can mere mere rational hoi poloi offer advice since these gifted entities know what is good for us.


    2. hmm, not so baffling really

      Anonymous it seems Coleen just wanted to discuss the idea of a bag tax, and had a rough outline for it.  That’s why she posted it to the discussion section of the A&PW committee, after all the other business they had Monday (which was an awful lot – ask any cabbie).  Had she done her homework beforehand, she would have realized that disposable carryout bags of either paper or plastic carry costs in terms of production (12 million barrels of oil, 14 million trees) consumption (retailers nationwide spend up to $4billon a year on disposable bags) disposal (millions of pounds of plastic bags and related wrapping into nonrenewable landfill space) and recycling (only 1 to 3% of plastic bags get recycled anyhow.)  If she did, she may have considered how the fees from such an ordinance could educate people to bring their own bags, provide reusable bags to the needy, and support other measures to reduce Evanston’s environmental impact and reliance on foreign oil. 

      Now even someone without a degree in the dismal science would agree the costs of producing, consuming disposing and recycling plastic bags, much less paper bags (an even worse environmental problem in many cases) outweighs the ephemeral convenience of answering that worn out query "paper or plastic?"

  8. Tax away!

    I already do most of my shopping in Wilmette in order to avoid downtown Evanston’s congestion and parking fees. Tax away, Evanston!

  9. Plastic bag purposes

      I assume they want to tax them for income but will use the reason "plastic bags pollute directly or by blowing around."

      People use plastic bags to wrap garbage [hopefully not recycleables], pick-up after dogs and other things.  And many recycle them at grocery stores.

      Many people like them for grocery shopping esp. if they are walking or biking.  The bags the city purposes, at least the ones I’ve seen, do not hold much, do not fit in a back-pack very easily [the number I need for shopping definitely would not].  I bike everywhere—in Evanston having a car is meaningless.

      I keep plastic bags in my backpack and use them at grocery, CVS, bookstores and other places.  Carrrying enough of the proposed bags would not work for groceries.  However since the Jewel on Chicago Ave. is always lined with panhandlers I use Wilmette Jewel mostly anyway so I guess I can get by with small purchases in Evanston non-Jewel and go to Wilmette for Jewel.

    1. You bike everywhere too – good for you!

      Given your concern for the environment (and desire to enjoy it on two wheels, while saving money, getting exercise etc.) then you may be interested to know only  one to three percent of plastic bags ever end up being recycled at least according to  –

      It sounds like you’re good to go, saving money and the environment regardless of the City Council.  Again good for you Anonymous.


  10. Pigs

    This is another of those stupid taxes that will render itself irrelevant once everyone either a) shops elsewhere (not going to happen 100%) or b) stops using plastic bags (more likely), thereby bringing the city NOTHING, like traffic cameras in some areas. But, hey! Let’s cash in until the people get wise! Sarcasm intended. Goverment greed in action once again. How about, oh, I dunno, LESS GOVERNMENT! I know. Earth shattering. The government is, hands down, the greediest entity in this country. And the world. Wall Street ain’t got nuthin’ on the government.

  11. This is a funny discussion

    Dear neighbors,

    Don’t take a plastic bag from a store request paper.

    Don’t pay a tax on that plastic bag.

    As far as I can tell there is no right to a free shopping bag.

    Very respectfully

    Manon Kavesky

    1. Funnier discussion


      Being "green" may be "feel good" and PC, but in the cruel real world there are things called "opportunity costs" and "the law of unintended consequences".

      If it costs me $0.50 to over a $1 more to shop in Evanston because of the plastic bag tax, then I will shop in Wilmette or Skokie. The city then not only loses the sales tax revenue but also tax revenue from other shopping I will do.

      There is no right to have to shop in Evanston.

      This is why the City is in such financial straits…. duh?


      1. You don’t sound like Karl.

        Karl, you should be careful about your statement, some people may think you are Adam Smith. Someone needs to sit down with the Alderman and give them a lesson about the invisible hand, but we all know they will get confused and think we are talking about Genesis and Invisible Touch.
        Baffled Economist  
      2. Kind sir, I don’t understand

        Kind sir,

        I don’t understand your comment.

        Why would it cost you anything extra to shop in your home town?

        Bring a bag with you, I don’t think there is any intention of taxing you on your used shopping bag.

        As for costs, you may live closer to Wilmette or Skokie and your closest market may be outside of the city limits. 

        Please save money and gas and shop at your closest market, it would be silly to drive out of your way.

        All the best

        Manon Kavesky

        1. Kind sir,


          You obviously have never heard of marginal cost, opportunity cost or the law of unintended consequences. If I have to lug bags around, that is a "cost". Also, there are often better selections and prices elsewhere. I shop where I get the best bargain fro cost and effort.


          karl marx

  12. plastic bags

    dear manon, colleen,  and friends at evanston now:

    speaking only for vito’s and my experience with plastic bags, here’s how we use and recycle them.  we mostly ask for paper, as we use paper bags to store our newspapers in for recycling.  we reuse the paper bags several times.  we use the plastic bags to line two often-used garbage cans. when we dog-sit our daughter’s retriever, we use them for dog poops, as do many neighbors.  we then return the plastic bags to the store for recycling (the empty ones, not the ones with dog poop in them…..)

    the proposal to charge for the bags, with the burden being on the stores to manage the exceptions, count the usage, collect and forward the tax is cumbersome, time and money consuming, and, we predict, will not work.

  13. Charging For Plastic Bags

    This is one of the most stupid proposals I have seen and will pose an unnecessay financial burden on poor folks who are having a hard time just making ends meet. I’m sure this alderwoman can find better ways to generate revenue.

  14. These comments are a typical

    these comments are a typical reaction to something that people are not educated on..Wow, a  so called ‘economist’ showed up to the discussion and he’s apparently the authority on everything.

    It’s funny how cheap people are. You idiots will burn more gas than the plastic bag tax going to Skokie than what the tax would cost.

    You can also easily solve the problem and buy, for an extremely low price, a reusable bag for your groceries. 

    Just FYI- one of the largest states in our union, California, has considered such a tax as well.

    It appears that our ‘commentors’ have not done their research on what plastic bags actually do to the environment. These are the same idiots that think Hummers are fine because we live in a free country.

    Justy FYI: 

    In every square mile of ocean there are over 46,000 pieces of plastic. This puts an enormous strain on the environment. The little pieces of plastic act as a sort of sponge for chemicals. They soak up a million fold greater concentration of such deadly compounds as PCBs and DDE (a breakdown product of the notorious insecticide DDT), than the surrounding seawater ( Marine life then eats these pieces and dies. It is estimated that over a 100,000 different birds, seals and whales die every year ( After the animal dies its carcass decomposes and the plastic is free to roam the ocean and kill again.

    Do your research first, cheap idiots, before commenting on a very reasonable proposal.

    1. Gentle readers …

      Gentle readers …

      Please do not call one another idiots. It reflects poorly on the person slinging the slur.

      And, just FYI, the California state senate earlier this month rejected a plastic bag ban proposal that also would have taxed paper bags. Some some California municipalities have imposed plastic bag bans, however.

      — Bill

      1. Gentle Readers

        Calling opponents "cheap idiots" is typical of the elite green PC cultist savants who know what is best for those ignorant common folks. Yes plastic bags do harm the environment, but money is also a scarce resource, especially in this city where budgets are overwhelmed. Introducing an added cost to drive people to shop elsewhere will only add to the financial problems the city faces. Get real, let us rank order problems and direct our energies to solving the larger ones.

        1. Karl, aren’t you dead?

          And Karl, paper bags do as much if not more damage than plastic, requiring more energy to produce and recycle, and generating more pollutants.  Coleen may have missed that in her first draft.  But its a great reason to take stock of what we owe our kids and grandkids.  You’re right Karl, funds are scarce, and retailers in Evanston shouldn’t have to keep shelling out money to pay for my convenience, when in the end it harms my kids.  Let’s reduce their costs (and any tax dollars going to the city) by bringing our own shopping bags. 

    2. Just FYI- one of the largest

      Just FYI- one of the largest states in our union, California, is bankrupt. They need all the taxes they can possibly get away with.

      Just FYI- it’s not because they are "super -green".

      Just FYI-The Governor of California, who is spending billions more each month than he can raise in taxes, has insufficient funds left to settle outstanding bills and is days away from being forced to start issuing “IOU” notes to creditors and civil servants.

  15. Can’t wait

    I’m moving back to Evanston soon and I can’t wait. Plastic bags allow dog poop to last forever. So tax away! I have my own bags.

  16. Just one more reason to shop somewhere else!

    I haven’t bought gasoline in Evanston since they raised the tax.  I pay my utilities and real estate taxes, and otherwise do business in Wilmette, Chicago, and elsewhere.  W’mette’s closer anyway.  I’ve been driven out by the ignorant politicians.

    Buy Nothing More in Evanston

  17. Unsanitary Reusable Bags – YUCK

     Hasn’t anyone heard/read about how unsanitary those reusable bags can be??  It was disgusting enough to make you want to vomit.

    I don’t shop in Evanston … can’t afford it.  Soon will not be able to afford to live here.

    1. Polluting disposable bags – gross!

      Anonymous, would you please provide references on the unsanitary nature of reusable bags, and the threat they pose to public health.  I have a similar reaction when I see photos of bird skeletons washed ashore on deserted beaches, stuffed full bottle caps and plastic bags. 

  18. Repeat of the Evanston Gas Tax ?

    Some may recall up to the middle(?) 1970s Evanston had an additional gas tax.  Most people did the logical think and bought gas in Chicago, Skokie or Wilmette.

     While plastic bags are a problem, a tax on them won’t help much.

    1. No repeat here!

      Anonymous, were the City to simply levy a fee on the purchase of plastic bags, couldn’t we avoid it by bringing our own bags?  You obviously understand the problem of plastic bagss, but did you realize that according to some estimates paper bags contribute twice as many pollutants and require four times the energy to produce as plastic bags?  If Coleen doesn’t she should!  If we’re to act responsibly we need to encourage people to use bring their own reusable carryout bags.  And if I forget the I deserve to pay the price of convenience.

  19. Tax plastic bags that wrap newspapers and ads?

    Will they also tax the companies and merchants that leave newspapers, flyers, shopping literature, Evanston Recreation, school flyers ?

    These are probably a bigger problem than plastic bags from grocery stores since I find few people want many/most of these and leave them outside [many on the curb or street] or toss the material and bag in the recycle bins.  I do pick up mine and eventually toss [absent the bag] the materials no one picks up after a few days.

  20. bag the plastic bags

    Geez, I thought I lived in a forward-thinking, generally enlightened town.  The hot air and smelly gas coming from opponents of a sensible plastic-bag surcharge really makes me wonder.  Plastic bags are completely outlawed in some countries, and are taxed in more and more cities and municipalities.  It just makes sense.  They’re unsightly, don’t biodegrade, harm wildlife, and contribute to our dependence on petroleum. 

    Please, Evanston, tax the darn plastic bags.  I’ll pay, and everyone else I know will pay, and we’re Evanstonians.  People who think that sensible and trivial move is "the final straw" are undoubtedly already not shopping in Evanston.  (But, don’t get me started on the regressive parking meter policy….)

  21. We should consider an ordinance like this

    I applaud Alderman Coleen Burrus for bringing such an ordinance to discuss with the A&PW Committee Monday night.  Years have gone by since Whole Foods, Jewel Osco, Dominicks and other chains began offering reusable bags, and yet how many people still keep answering that old query "paper or plastic?"  Despite an upsurge in people bringing their own reusable carryout bags we cannot avoid the fact that most shoppers still pollute in deference to convenience.  We reduced our addiction to cigarettes through educational ads, the overwhelming clinical evidence of their harm, and a systematic piling on of fees at state and local levels for their purchase.  While the targeting of plastic and the quarter per bag levy may not survive close scrutiny, we can and should take them as a starting point for crafting an ordinance that will reduce our reliance on disposable carryout bags (paper and plastic), encourage the use of reusable bags, mandate the use of recycled, recyclable disposable bags, and fund sustainability efforts in the city.  While some may choose out of sheer indignation to drive out of their way to avoid such a tax, most of us will save the trip, and bring our own.  It’s the responsible thing to do.

    Michael Drennan

    2009 Candidate for Alderman in Evanston’s Ninth Ward

  22. I’ll simply do this…

    If a tax happens, I’ll simply request paper.  If we tax that, I’ll bring my reusable bag.  If i only need one item and I don’t have my reusable bag all folded up in my pocket ready to pull out, I’ll walk out with the item w/o any  bag.  Additionally,  I will probably visit the Wilmette or Skokie grocery stores more frequently, get my stuff in the plastic bags and then drop them off to city hall for proper recycling. 

  23. It’s not a tax if you don’t pay it.

    Use reusable bags and you’re good to go. They don’t cost much and they’re often freebies for non-profit donations or professional conferences and such.

    My personal experience is that a few years back I noticed the clutter in my house from plastic shopping bags and also a pile of canvas tote bags accumulated over the years. I solved both problems by throwing the tote bags in the back of our cars and trying to remember to take them with me every time I entered a store. It required a little more consciousness on my part going from car to store but eventually you the hang of it. I’m sure a 50 cent tax would have expedited the consciousness raising process. 

    So while I might like to have folks think my actions stemmed from a concern for our marine wildlife and a desire to stop contributing to the demise of our oceans from giant floating garbage patches, it was a close to home clean up the clutter concern that got me to change my habits,

    The point is that it only takes a little effort to make a change that can have a big impact if we all follow suit. Tax or no tax.

    Let’s make this whole debate about a plastic bag tax irrelevant because we’ve all made the kinds of behavioral changes that make a difference for the planet that our children and grandchildren will inherit. 

  24. The Plastic Bag Tax

    I support Alderman Burrus’ attempt to tax the distribution of plastic bags.  I’m an Evanston resident; I’d like to see our town setting an example for other communities, locally and nationally, on how to live in a more sustainable and environmentally conscious manner.

    I do wish that Mr. Smith, the writer of this article, had mentioned if Ms. Burrus had a plan for the revenue raised from this tax.  Would this proposed income go into the general city coffers?  Would it support other green programs specifically?

    1. Bag tax revenue

      Hi John,

      The draft ordinance just says the money raised will go to the general fund.

      You could find the full text here.

      Discussion of the proposal was postponed Monday night. It’s scheduled to come up again on Oct. 11.

      — Bill

  25. Alternative to increase bag re-cycling

      If the city would require all grocery and drug stores and city government buildings to re-cycle bags [i.e. have a collection bin] then perhaps the non-revenue side of the problem could be solved.  As far I know only Jewel, Dominicks and Whole Foods do so at present.

      If grocery and drug stores don’t have a means to get the bags to a processor, perhaps the city could collect and forward them once a week.

  26. BagIt

    Hey, folks.  I agree that the Evanston city Council does some crazy crap, but this proposal is certainly worth a serious look.  Of course there are tradeoffs, but, as a community, we want to be responsible global citizens.  I can only assume that the chicken littles have no friggin’ clue as to the impact that plastic is having on our planet.  And, I say this as a Ph.D. economist, who consults to business, not as a tree-hugging knee-jerk pinko.

    So, if you are skeptical of the ordinance, I HIGHLY recommend you learn more about the seriousness of the plastic plague infecting our earth.  And, it just so happens that a group of concerned Evanston residents has scheduled a public screening of BAG IT in the hope of raising public awareness of the importance of imposing a ban or a tax on plastic grocery bags here.  BAG IT is a film that examines our society’s use and abuse of plastic. The film is extremely entertaining and humorous, but at the same time disturbing  — and ultimately inspiring. The film focuses on plastic as it relates to our society’s throwaway mentality, our culture of convenience, our overconsumption of unnecessary, disposable products and packaging — things that we use one time and then, without another thought, toss away. Where is AWAY?? Away is overflowing landfills, clogged rivers, islands of trash in our oceans, and even our very own toxic bodies. 

    Cosponsored by the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation and Citizens for a Greener Evanston, the free screening is on Thursday, Oct. 14th at 7 p.m. at JRC, 303 Dodge Avenue, Evanston. Refreshments will be served.

    To watch the trailer and learn more about the film and the issues, go to:

    Please, join as, learn more about the issue, share your thoughts, and help us brainstorm better solutions.  We look forward to a vibrant dialog.


    1. bags


      No one is arguing that plastic bags harm the environment and to "frame" the issue against the proposed ordinance as anti-environmental is silly, if not unfair  

      The issue is why penalize consumers.

      Why not outlaw plastic bags.  I would prefer paper bags (they are taboo also) but I have to go out of my way to get a paper bag, because paper bags consume more of the clerk’s time and owners are trying to shrink the number of checkout people.

      I assume the standard response is carry your own bags. Well that is not convenient, especially if you do not have a car.

      Again, why whack the consumer.

      Be creative and find other ways rather than knee jerk TAX!

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