City's Economic Development Committee discusses proposed bag tax & plastic bag ban.

You are probably about to get nickled-and-dimed by the City of Evanston.

A proposed 15-cents-per-bag tax for retail sales (paper bags and plastic) is working its way through the necessary committees on its way to City Council.

If the tax is approved, the measure also bans plastic bags in about 18 months. The paper bag tax would remain.

The intent is to get customers to use recyclable bags of their own.

On Wednesday night, members city’s Economic Development Committee went over the plan.

No votes were taken, no decisions were made. However, with several council members on the development panel, the discussion pointed towards possible changes once the measure gets to council later this month.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), the development committee’s chair, said, “I’m inclined to include an exemption for restaurants” on the tax.

Restaurant owner Dan Kelch told the panel that the bag fee is “an onerous proposal” which could become an administrative nightmare with so many meals now being ordered via services such as Door Dash and Uber Eats.

A restaurant exemption was actually included in the tax ordinance as originally written by staff, but for some unknown reason it had been taken out prior to Wednesday night’s meeting.

So it would have to be put back in by council, if that’s how the sentiment runs. The tax, with whatever exemptions council may include, would then take effect immediately.

But there’s the other part of the proposal as well — the complete ban on point of sale, single-use, plastic shopping bags, as of April 2024.

After that, only taxed paper bags could be provided by a store at checkout, for customers who do not bring their own reusable bags. The paper bags would have to be made of at least 40% recyclable materials.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th), who proposed both the tax and the plastic ban, said “we have an environmental crisis and plastic bags are part of it.”

Development panel member Eli Klein said he was “worried that this is a bad time to be trying this,” as small businesses are coping with a “retail-apocalypse” from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Klein said shoppers might just go to Skokie or Wilmette where there are fewer regulations, and no bag taxes.

However, Reid said the goal of the tax is not to raise revenue, but rather to help pay for environmental services and education.

Seven of the 15 cents would go to the city’s Solid Waste Fund, three cents to the Health Department for enforcement, and five cents per bag would stay with the retailer for administrative expenses.

The plastic bag ban would actually be a strengthening of an existing 2014 city ordinance, which tried to ban such bags used by large retailers, such as grocery and “big box” stores.

But, as you’ve no doubt seen during your shopping trips, plastic bags are definitely provided.

How can that happen, considering the restrictions? Well, the city’s Sustainability Coordinator, Cara Pratt, told Evanston Now those large stores “have circumvented the ban,” by using plastic bags which are thicker than the size of those which were prohibited.

Both the bag tax and the plastic bag ban next go to city council’s Human Resources Committee on Dec. 5, and then to full council on Dec. 12.

As currently written, there are exemptions from the tax for small paper bags which contain pharmacy prescriptions, bags which hold loose produce items, and newspaper bags.

City staff also wants to exempt those receiving SNAP (formerly called food stamp) benefits from paying the tax.

The tax measure’s sponsor, Ald. Reid, said that at first, he did not want to exempt SNAP recipients, in order to “give them a nudge” to use recyclable bags.

However, federal rules prevent SNAP benefits from paying any fees or taxes (other than sales tax on food), so unless exempted from the tax, SNAP recipients would have to pay the bag tax out of their own pockets.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. I’m glad I go to woodmans and costco, I stopped shopping in chicago because of those extra costs. Good luck

  2. I’m tired of talk about a bag tax. I’m tired of people advocating that this makes a dent in sustainability. Literally reusing your bag is a total waste of time. Go have Ald. Reid sponsor this is a joke. You know what would make Evanston actually be a city that makes a difference for the environment- mandating composting. I have composted for /5 years and since moving to Evanston I pay collective Resources to collect my compost. Mandate this for businesses and homes. The paper bags are easily composted. Mandate composting and while you’re at it why not actually enforce that recycling is recycled and not just take to the transfer station near Eths. Then we can save the absurd charade of a “bag tax” that does nothing for the environment. How does the city even expect to collect this? . I am pretty sure you have no right to dig into businesses records for an accounting of their bags. I am really tired of Evanston city council wasting my time, city staff time and making the city more unfriendly towards businesses. Devon Reid might want to start by paying his rent.

    1. Good points. I think many in Evanston believe that disposable plastic bags are harmful to the environment. Note that many if not most re-usable bags, like the ones sold at Whole Foods, are made of plastic even though they feel like cloth. Prior to imposing this tax I think the City should present research that validates that plastic bags do harm. My understanding is that they almost all end up in land fills, and there is more than ample capacity for land fill. A media circus about the “garbage barge” in 1987 convinced a generation that we were running low places to put garbage. But that simply is not true.

  3. I think the council should extend the exemptions as well. They should exempt all consumers from the bag tax except for Mr. Reid and the other alderman who vote in favor for this business-killing measure.

  4. Already shop for groceries in Skokie & Wilmette. This will cement that any additional, mid-week groceries are purchased there as well. It’s as if Reid believes people won’t take their business elsewhere. How naive & shortsighted. Anyone else notice how nary a week passes & Reid’s vying to grab headlines? He’d probably be uncomfortable facing the truth that he’s as much a publicity hound as Trump. Another example of how political polar extremes resemble each other in tone & style.

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