Evanston’s Economic Development Committee is scheduled Wednesday evening to consider a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags and a tax on all other bags.

The ban on the thin plastic bags, proposed by Ald. Devon Reid (8th), would take effect in April 2024. The 15-cent tax on all bags would be imposed immediately.

The tax would exempt only bags provided by a pharmacist to hold a prescription drug, newspaper bags and bags used to package loose produce items.

A staff memo says the proposal has been endorsed by the city’s Environment Board.

Since 2014 the city has banned the use of disposable plastic bags by large chain stores. The new ordinance would apply to all retailers, apparently including restaurants, although the existing bag ordinance exempts restaurants.

The Economic Development Committee on May 31 voiced support for a tax on all sorts of point-of-sale bags. The measure under consideration then did not include the expanded ban on single-use plastic bags.

A recent report by Columbia University’s Climate School says it’s extremely difficult to determine which type of shopping bag — plastic, paper or reusable cotton tote — is actually most climate-friendly.

The city plan would punish consumers for any use of store-provided bags, thereby favoring shoppers who bring their own cotton totes — though the Columbia report says a cotton bag “needs to be used 7,100 times to equal the environmental profile of a plastic bag.”

At the May 31 EDC meeting, Cara Pratt, the city’s sustainability and resilience coordinator, said she planned to “solicit feedback from community stakeholders” about the proposed revision to the city’s existing bag ordinance.

The packet for Wednesday night’s EDC meeting contains no report on what that feedback may have been, if it was collected.

The new proposed ordinance would exempt recipients of SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, from having to pay the tax, because federal regulations bar the use of those benefits to pay any fees or taxes, other than sales tax on food items.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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11 Comments

    1. It is understood that the locals will whine for a bit, but will grow accustomed to this new policy when they consider the alternatives (driving to shop in the nearby Skokie or Wilmette with elevated gas prices). Besides, Evanston is full of unwitting tourists who will happily pay the tax without thinking much. As long as the measure creates a steady revenue stream to support the alderman’s initiatives, I am all for it.

  1. I used to bring my excellent Treasure Island grocery bags to the grocery story as recycling bags. However, during COVID, personal recycling bags were prohibited at most grocery stores around Evanston. Meanwhile, due to failed surgery on my right shoulder, I must carry no more than 5 lbs with my right arm. Therefore, I appreciate the smaller plastic bags that Jewel and Walgreens, just over the border in Skokie, provide. I also reuse these bags for the used litter from my indoor cat. I far prefer a new, clean bag for food items especially, certainly not a cotton bag or one without a paper inset bag to exchange to be used for newspaper recycling. Far better source of revenue is replacing the current pay boxes, and service fees for using the ap to pay for parking. Replacing these annoying fees with a far higher patronage of local businesses who then generate more sales tax revenue than parking fees and bag fees. We can’t keep taxing customers who think they would like to shop in Evanston. It’s a real turnoff…I’m quoting a local lawyer who is considering moving his small office to Wilmette due to client complaints, especially from non-residents, about the parking meters.

  2. I doubt that Reid gives a damn about the environment. All he cares about is taking money away from anyone in Evanston who is not on welfare and giving it to his friends in return for “favors”.

  3. In many European countries, there’s a bag fee. The problem of course is if you can easily shop elsewhere where they don’t…as mentioned above. Better would be to do a la whole foods and give a bag credit for bringing own bag. A small but better step now to reduce plastic and reduce resource waste is to make including plasticware in carryout orders an ‘upon request’ thing (Chicago has done?) and, when dining in, water provided if requested, not automatically. The state of Maine is allowIng restaurants to reuse plastic carryout containers that are returned, worth exploring how that is working.

  4. The reusable bag credit is a great idea. and I like the retailers around here who have implemented it. But policies like this shouldn’t be mandated by government decree.

    When the City banned 1 ml plastic bag here a few years ago, retailers simply started providing 2 ml bags. More waste despite the government decree.

  5. They should do this, bring your own reusable bags. Driving out shoppers has never been proven and is only an excuse to complain.

  6. What exactly does “all bags” mean? Because when I read all bags, I read anytime you use a bag no matter if it’s given to you from a store or if you bring it from home. The wording is tricky.
    I’m all for reusable bags considering a small percentage of items sent out to be recycled are actually recycled. However, this taxing has gotten past the point of ridiculous. I really don’t see Reid concerned for the environment. I see it more of a mask to improve the cities budget without having the negative consequences. Quite honestly, this is a bad move that will hurt small business owners. One of the ramifications of bringing your own bag to a boutique store in Evanston is that it opens the door for theft. Sad, we have to think this way but it’s something owners will have to be wary of.
    We are fee’d too much and taxed to death as it is. I hope the city comes to its senses and realizes most of us don’t have disposable incomes. This is too much. I’m waiting for a toll to enter and exit Evanston.

  7. I do not think it will have much of an impact on shoppers. People who live locally may not have the time or vehicle to go to Wilmette or Skokie. People that like to get in their cars to shop elsewhere will continue to. I would like to know where the tax funds would go? If someone shopped at various stores during the week at used a total of 15 bags in one week, that would equal $2.25 per week, or $117 a year. It adds up, but I do not think in the long run, it will have a major impact. Evanston’s sales tax, gas cost and property taxes are higher than most places in the USA with similar amenities, so the cost of living here is just getting worse (and the darn silly wheel tax too). I’m a middle-class person without kids, and I’m being priced out and looking to move where there is a better overall quality of life since I do not have kids in this school system (and it’s not a great school system anymore) to hold me back. But the bag tax has nothing to do with it. I’m for helping the environment if that is what it will ultimately achieve.

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