Amid soaring food prices, Evanston alders Monday will consider adding a tax on the bags shoppers use to carry their purchases home from the grocery story.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports supermarket food prices rose 11.8% last year and predicts they will rise another 8% this year.

The city’s Human Services Committee is scheduled to consider two different flavors of a bag tax and ban plan that’s been working its way through the bureaucratic process for several months and a related set of staff recommendations.

Last month the full City Council sent the more aggressive version of the plan back to committee, after hearing numerous complaints from local business owners.

But that version is still up for consideration by the committee Monday night, along with a modified version that incorporates changes suggested by alders at last month’s meeting:

Original versionAlternate
Tax per bag15-cents10-centsA tax
Applies toAll retailersStores larger than 10,000 square feetStores larger than 10,000 square feet
ExemptsNoneRestaurants, non-chain-store organizationsRestaurants, non-chain-store organizations
Ban single use plastic point-of-sale bags
and plastic produce bags in covered stores starting
April 1, 2024June 1, 2023April 1, 2023
Require that paper point-of-sale bags in covered stores be made of 40% post-consumer recycled content startingApril 1, 2024June 1, 2023[Postpone action]
Ban plastic non-compostable produce bags in all businessesNAJan. 1, 2025[Postpone action]

Both versions of the proposed ordinance contain tax exemptions for certain types of bags — including:

  • Bags provided by a pharmacist to hold prescription drugs.
  • Newspaper bags.
  • Bags to package loose produce, hardware and similar items.
  • Bags containing frozen foods, meat or fish, prepared foods or bakery goods.

Both versions also exempt from the tax bags used to carry items purchased with funds from government food assistance programs.

The staff recommendation suggests that discussion of some bag rules be postponed for a year until the city’s sustainability and resilience division staff has increased, as called for in the 2023 budget, and until there is “greater distance from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Proposals staff wants to put on the shelf temporarily include a communitywide bag tax, community wide plastic bag ban and communitywide ban on all single use plastics.

Environmental activists argue that residents should favor reusable cloth bags rather than paper or plastic bags — which they claim are ultimately more costly because of their impact on the environment.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Why does Evanston hate the middle class so much? As soon as my daughter graduates, we are out of here. This town is too expensive.

    1. They don’t hate you- they just want your money. We’ve an activist council that has a socialist, wealth redistribution agenda. Business owners & successful professionals are the target. Robin Hood syndrome in the service of revenge.

  2. What problem does this actually solve? We’re not going to solve climate by nickel and diming consumers with more tax.

  3. Even the academics hired by Chicago to produce the studies to justify these bag taxes include small print statements that no definitive environmental benefit claim may result from this type of legislation. Why is that?
    While they make observational claims that certain types of checkout bag use may have declined bag sales have increased. Seems people began purchasing many more trash bags, doggie care bags, and other items to make up for the forgone checkout bags.
    Wholesale bag distribution in Chicago has shown no decrease in bag demand, in fact they cannot keep up with the demand, seems bags are simply being sold.

    It’s just a money grab by municipalities, nothing more. Ultimately there is little to no environmental effect whatsoever. Indeed, just like previous bag actions taken by various communities it likely will result in even worse environmental outcomes through unintended consequence. But golly gee forget the devil in the details, we get to give ourselves a big pat on the back. So typical.

  4. Where’s the science? This is an irresponsible act without definitive proof of environmental benefit that factors in the environmental cost of raw materials production and end-use recycling or destruction. It appears to be a difficult case to make, which leaves us with political theater. Give the citizens the Science and let them determine how best to respond. A tax applied selectively is inappropriate and another self-inflicted wound. Trust the good people of Evanston to make good decisions for themselves and their community.

    1. The basis of this tax is an environmental justification. Problem is these type of taxes and bans have historically had the reverse effect. More bags get used because people purchase them in larger quantities, nothing is actually being reduced. Also paper and reusables need to be used repeatedly so many times before it brings any environmental benefit that it’s also essentially not a solution. Its why the people who did those half assed studies make written claims in small print footnotes that these bans & taxes cannot claim any environmental benefit whatsoever. But hey why bother with the small print when monies can be collected, both by the people conducting the academic studies and the municipalities who implement the bans and taxes. There is no science involved here, just a desire to collect your money.

  5. I have no idea why anyone is complaining when they can, and should, bring their own reusable bags when they go shopping. If you can remember to bring your shopping list each time you go, then there’s no excuse as to why you can’t remember to bring your own bags, too. It really isn’t hard.

    Leave them in your car, then you’ll always have them.

    People find anything and everything to complain about. Just do the right thing.

    1. 9thwardgal, I do have reusable bags, I keep them in the car and I almost always remember to take them into the store. What I don’t have and what I really object to most here, is something for loose produce and leaky meat. Bags used for this purpose are subject to this ordinance.

    2. I agree that plastic should be eliminated—despite their claims most plastic bags at stores aren’t recyclable anyway. However, I do get paper bags for my groceries from the store and reuse them for trash. Otherwise I’d have to buy them off the shelf so short of the cost there is no net positive effect except to those collecting the revenue. Just more government oversight.

      And to take this sideways, what about all the plastic and packaging on the things we buy? Eliminating that would have a far greater impact on the waste in our environment.

    3. The right thing to do is what I did, move out of Evanston. They taxed us for brick sidewalks, now they are too expensive to maintain, so concrete is going back. Gas is cheaper the minute you leave Evanston, sales tax is less, and so is property tax. Even in Wilmette. There is no free garbage pickup, like Evanston. Everyone pays, and the paper bags hold recycling. It is a money grab. There are choices.

  6. I’ve been using the same four Costco bags I bought for a few bucks a decade or so ago. They never seem to break, and hold up to 50 lbs of groceries apiece with two sets of handles. They’re a little battered looking, so I haven’t been taking them into stores. Guess that’s about to change.

    Seems to me that the council is bored. Maybe it’s time to replace them with folks who want to spend their time on real problems.

  7. Not a problem for me. I live on the north side and will just switch from Valli to Jewel in Wilmette. Problem solved

  8. Congrats Evanston. You did it! You’ve chased another long time Evanston resident out. Doesn’t matter though. My home soon will be occupied by some innocent, clueless soul that will wake up in regret moving here. I’d like to know who was the mastermind behind this imbellillic, half-witted idea? It’s a damn shame that the City of Evanston is missing the boat on so many awesome opportunities to grow economically. Yet, the shortsighted management is focusing on how to bleed it’s consumers and its residents to death. It’s really not that hard to think outside the box and become inspired by other successful communities. How about focusing on making the City functionable again? With more and more companies resorting to remote/work from home, time for plan B. Developing the downtown areas; Main, Dempster, Central and make them more retail and consumer friendly. Businesses bring in money!!!!!! Waste of space areas. Dempster and Dodge. Main st. (Food 4 Less) Too much parking lot and not enough business development/green space. Side note. Stop allowing NU to purchase property. They give back very little percentage to what they are taking. Enough is enough!!!

  9. Charging for plastic bags is not going to change much and the bags are not wreaking havoc. What about plastic tea bags that do not go into the recycling? Single use coffee pods? The construction going on? One use wooden chop sticks? People driving to other places to shop to avoid the excessive fees and panhandlers? And Evanston has many top rated BBQ restaurants, but let’s not forget the BBQ with gas cooking of the sauces, the charcoal, the carry out containers, tin foil or butchers wrap, and more are NOT environmentally safe. And yet Evanston gave a grant to Soul & Smoke? A little hypocritical here council.

    The biggest culprit of climate hazard actually comes from servers for the cloud?

    Evanston needs to really look and research before doing another feel good move that is not going to help. There are other areas they can look at to better help the environment that will make a difference that is proven.

  10. If Evanston needs more money, NU could just pay taxes or a PILOT instead of coming up with more ways to “justify” taxing cash strapped residents more.

  11. Another example of our crack representatives focusing on economic development. Wilmette is eating our lunch. Check out downtown Wilmette on a Saturday night and then roam around Evanston. Why do think Bennison’s chose to open their cafe in Wilmette? Oh, perhaps because there is not a homeless hotel around the corner.

  12. I’m with Frustrated. Evanston is getting expensive, and what are we really getting for our taxes? Now you want 15 cents for bags I’m out of here also.

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