Evanston aldermen put off action Monday on a plan to tax disposable plastic and paper bags after opponents asked that local businesses be consulted before a vote is taken. But the council committee also decided to consider banning the bags entirely rather than taxing them.

Evanston aldermen put off action Monday on a plan to tax disposable plastic and paper bags after opponents asked that local businesses be consulted before a vote is taken. But the council committee also decided to consider banning the bags entirely rather than taxing them.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who suggested the ban, said a tax would be regressive, hitting poor people hardest.

Rainey, who has distributed reusable shopping bags in the past to promote her re-election, also argued at the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting that the tax wouldn’t solve the problem of bags littering neighborhoods — a problem she said was especially severe along Chicago Avenue and Howard Street in her ward.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, who operates a retail pet supply store downtown, said “it makes absolutely no sense” to force small business owners to impose a bag tax on their customers.

She said the ordinance “would have a devastating impact on small mom and pop businesses.”

And she said most of her customers already use reusable bags anyway.

Having “bag police,” Fiske said, wouldn’t make Evanston welcoming to small businesses.

Michael Drennan, 820 Oakton St., supported the ordinance saying it’s more responsible for residents to take their own reusable bags to the store. 

But Carl Bova, 1322 Rosalie St., opposed the tax saying the administrative cost of the ordinance would be greater than the revenue.

Residents are tired of being nickeled and dimed with new taxes, Bova added.

He said the if the law is enacted, he and other residents will start shopping in Wilmette, to avoid the tax.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, who proposed the bag tax, said she believed city staff had talked to local businesses about the issue and complained that the staff “hasn’t been on board with the proposal.”

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, called for getting more information about what local stores do with bags and how many people are using re-usable bags now.

She also suggested the city might delay the tax for a year or two and do an educational campaign in the meantime.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said only a few communities across the country have adopted a ban, but said he’d have the city’s legal staff gather more information them.

He also agreed to schedule an evening meeting to seek public comment on the proposal before the next Administration and Public Works Committee meeting on May 23.

Top: Alderman Ann Rainey hands one of her leftover campaign bags to Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, after the A&PW committee meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. I think the idea of a bag tax

    I think the idea of a bag tax is fantastic, and long overdue. But you know what is even better? a full ban on plastic bags. This is a worthwhile issue for the council to be addressing.

  2. Let’s ban council members who are anti-business

    How in the world did the bag tax proposal make it to the Administration and Public Works Committee  agenda with little input from business owners?

    I know how. It is another example of the anti-business sentiment emanating from Evanston Council chambers. There is an obvious strained relationship between the Council and the Evanston business community.

    This is the same City Council that didn't want owners of vacant storefronts to rent to religious organizations and adult daycare facilities. This is the same City Council that now regularly sends a city inspector to the Veolia garbage transfer station in an effort to pressure the company to move.

    Some of the City Council members on the Liquor Control Board have come out opposed to a proposed pub in downtown Evanston –  The Tilted Kilt – because as Councilwoman Jane Grover claims – the Tilted Kilt exploits women and wouldn't hire her sons or her because they "don't fit the profile."

    This is the same City Council that passed a restrictive green building ordinance in 2009 and since that time, there have been NO NEW business proposals involving more than 10,000 square feet with the exception of one. And that would-be developer, owner of Gordon Food Service, told the Council in February the green building ordinance in its existing form creates a cost that is too high to build in Evanston. City Manager Wally B. asked the Council to give this potential developer a green building hardship exemption. What did the Council do? Why it shuffled the issue back to the city's Environment Board that is filled with green activists who created the green building ordinance in the first place.

    Then the City Council came back in March and passed a green building ordinance amendment that allows developers and business owners a choice of getting LEED certified or meeting a set of locally-developed environmental standards. According to the owner of Gordon Foods, it still was cost-prohibitive to build.

    All the while, City Alderwoman Colleen Burrus said the city was "showing favoritism for people [owners of Gordon Food Service] who can hire expensive attorneys" when Wally B. asked for a green building hardship exemption.

    And now, Ms. Burrus and the Council have given us a proposed bag tax or ban with little input from local business owners. Banning bags – now think about that. Am I going to have to go everywhere with a bag? Because who knows, maybe I want to stop in at 7-Eleven or Ace Hardware to pick up a few items on the way home from work. Let's say I forgot my bag. The first thing that comes to mind is 'I won't buy too many items.' That kind of mindset is bad for business.

    And who will enforce the bag ban? What are the penalties for retailers who are caught providing them?

    These important questions were NEVER raised!

    And Burrus and Rainey make it sound like the city streets and sidewalks are littered with plastic bags. That's not true. If anything, I see more cans and plastic cups on the streets than anything else.

    Hey! That's it! Let's ban plastic cups!

    Wait, let's go for the whole nine yards.

    LET'S BAN PLASTIC!!!!!!!!

  3. Dear Council – Wake up to the REAL plastic bag problem!

    Plastic bags blowing in the wind are unsightly and a nuisance, but what about their presence where they really do cost us money and throw a wrench into the works – in our recycling! Those who don't like to read and busy council members – skip to the bold text below.

    If we are concerned about plastic bags and the environment then ENFORCE THE RULES WE ALREADY HAVE ON RECYCLING!!!

    As I have mentioned many times and for years now, not only to the general public but to Suzette Robinson at Public Works as well – the prohibition on plastic bagging in our recycling program is flouted, never enforced and makes a farce out of our city recycling program.

    The best way to literally screw up a recycling program is to put the separate items in plastic bags where the extraction methods used are thereby made incapable of separating them. Manual labor must be hired to tear open the plastic bags to free the contents.

    Evanstonians not only put plastic wrap, styrofoam, bubble wrap and bags in the recycling, they deliberately put their recycling in plastic bags. But it doesn't matter what you do – you can put your garbage in the blue bins, you can put tree branches in and it will be picked up.

    For fear of angering residents who like the convenience of plastic bagging, Groot and the city do nothing to address the problem and the recycling program suffers for it.

    Groot tears open every single plastic bag at their plant in Itasca – they have to in order to free the contents. Why don't they complain? They are a waste hauler and are happy to do that if they are paid, and we pay them.

    The solution is simple and would cure the problem within a couple of weeks:

    Do not collect recycling from bins whose contents violate the rules and LEAVE VIOLATION STICKERS (which drivers have but never use) to notify violators of the reason their blue bin has not been emptied.

    This couldn't be simpler, will cost the city nothing, will lower the cost of recycling for all of us and will eliminate a problem that has been getting worse for, literally, decades.


    1. 1. Bags 2.Cans/Bottles

      1. I would think the city [or whoever picks-up recycling] could greatly(?) help the bag in the machine problem by putting a sticker on the bins 'No Plastic Bags, No Styrofoam.'  Seems simple and cheap.  The bins already have stickers on them about paper and cans/bottles—some contradictory.

      In reality I rarely see plastic bags on the streets.  When I do they are between Jewel and Dominicks on Greenbay—probably bags that broke.


      2. Can/bottle recycling.  An Evanston resident who goes into Chicago says he still sees people [homeless, those needing a little money, etc.] picking up cans and bottles and putting them in big bags in their carts.  They then sell the cans and can get $20 for a big garbage bags of them.  I'd not known that places still buy cans [bottles?] but it would seem a way to clean up some of the streets and lawns given how many are tossed by people and how residents won't pick them up—including city hall and on the northside of the city building on Simpson east of the Metra tracks.  Maybe an arrangement could be made to buy them [or have a vendor do so] at city hall every(?) Saturday and side benefit of reducing recycle sorting [where ever done] and providing a little money to those who could use it.

  4. Bag ban

    Good God — it's true. Evanston wants more and more to emulate Baghdad by the Bay (SanFran) in not only suppressive politics but in nonsensical bans as well. The Socialization of Evanston would then be complete!

  5. I’m sure the neighboring

    I'm sure the neighboring towns will be excited if this ban goes into place. Evanston is doing everything it can to drive business away (look at all of the empty storefronts!). It will be worth the extra gas to drive to one of the neighboring towns to go grocery shopping or to the hardware store.

  6. Plastic

    Agreed.  Let's ban plastic. the stuff can't be recycled, just buried, burned or mixed in with other materials that can't be recycled. 

    And what's anti-business about making business face up to the full cost of operations instead of just allowing them to pass the clean up and long term environmental costs on all of us.  If your business is  addicted to plastic bags well it's time to start educating your customers to alternatives and guess what, business will eventually not have the overhead of handing out plastic bags.

    Oh 'change is bad for business', but wait dear business this is a capitalist system change is what drives profits right? 

    Here's a chance to differentiate yourself and maybe find a new profit point.

    1. What about other vendors?

      How does this affect vendors such as Peapod or others that deliver?

      BTW Village Market and other stores in nearby communities will appreciate the extra business.

  7. A bag ban is not

    A bag ban is not anti-business; it encourages consumers to change their behavior at little cost to the business.  In fact, it is far more pro-business than the tax (which I think would be way too cumbersome to administer).  What about a ban that allows stores to charge a small fee to people who forget their bags – just enough to make the impression on them so they would remember to toss them in their car (or bike basket or purse) next time.  People learn to bring bags or they decide they are willing to pay the 5 cents or whatever the amount is.  (The city of Toronto imposes a 5 cent charge for bags, for example.)  That might be a good compromise between a total ban and doing nothing.

    I have heard the arguments from people who say they reuse these plastic bags for garbage, which is obviously better than just putting them in landfills.  But you could make the counter-argument that the rest of us (including businesses) shouldn't have to subsidize their plastic consumption; pay the 5 cents for the resources you are using.

  8. bad bag discussion

    The environmental board is interested in their agenda and their opinions only.  The few people there decide what they want and start to push the agenda forward.

    The environmental board minutes have shown no sincere efforts in getting any other viewpoints, no sincere interest in real meaningful analysis of their proposals, no serious discussion about repercussions of their proposals or even entertaining thoughts of alternative methods that deviate from their personal agendas. 

    Nothing wrong with attempts to decrease the use of plastic bags, much wrong with the way this board goes about their business of addressing the issues and the methods they use/don't use to impose their desires.               

    1. Environment Board didn’t support this proposal

      Get your facts straight.  The Environment Board never endorsed the tax.

      1. Environment board facts

        You are technically correct, but the bag tax has repeatedly been an agenda item and I believe the board did submit a "Letter to council" supporting the bag reduction ordinance.  The board in effect told the advocates to basically "define it's wishes for the ordinance," get legal opinion,  and asked  what and how the advocates wanted the board to help move the issue forward.

        Again, I'm not against efforts to decrease plastic bag use. That board is where all viewpoints, factual analysis, ramifications and alternative strategies should be thoroughly explored with contact mandated to the entire community.  Taking at word the advocates comment that they reached out to business isn't thorough.  In essence handing the issue off to an advocate group with an agenda and a single alderwoman who is "not concerned about the money" and "wants an ordinance in place this year" doesn't cut it. 

        So I admit my facts may not be technically correct and I may have been overly harsh on a board that overall does good work on some mundane infrastructure issues.  Still, this is an environmental issue and as you say if the environment board never endorsed that tax, though they did motion approval of a letter of support,  then what should I suppose, that they are in opposition to the proposal?     

  9. Banning or taxing the bags

    Banning or taxing the bags in not a bad idea.  What is a bad idea is for the city of Evanston to ban or tax the bags on its own.  It puts the businesses in Evanston at a competitive disadvantage to stores in other towns.  Evanston is already faced with some significant disadvantages vs. the other surrounding communities why add another one?  If people in Evanston what to push this issue do it at the state or county level, although the same disadvantages will still apply at the borders.

    I don’t agree with the tax or ban, these actions have economic consequences that need to be understood.  People in town have been saying "We want a Trader Joe’s", well even something as small as this could change a store's mind on where they locate.     


  10. The solution is simple.  Do

    The solution is simple.  Do not re-elect any of these council people.  This anti-bag proposal is not only anti-business, it is anti-resident.  Therefore, any council person who is anti resident should not be serving the residents of the city of Evanston.  The key word here is serving.  

  11. How about just a bag charge?

    Why not give people a choice – you can bring your own bags, or pay 5 cents or something nominal, to get a plastic or paper bag if you either forget or choose not to bring a bag.  I don't see this as anti-business.  And if people have time to drive to Skokie or Wilmette to do their grocery shopping just because Evanston charges for bags, they have time to remember to bring their reusable bags with them. 

  12. Oh Brother

    I agree with Clif– let's enforce the (many) laws and ordinances we already have in Evanston.  We do not need to "tax" or "outlaw" everything that we don't like.  It's like running a business – if you attempt to add rules to everything that is bothersome, we will be spending all of our time trying to make sure people are following the rules.  That's ridiculous.  I recycle and I bring my own bags when I shop.  But, sometimes I forget them or don't have enough bags with me. 

    Recycling is good.  But, there's a good way to recycle. 

    And, isn't Illinois' "recycling" questionable anyway? 

  13. Bags

    Aldi does not give out free bags. if you don't bring your own you can buy one at the checkout.they sell two types, heavy duty plastic and reusable non-plastic totes. they do give away free packing boxes if you don't want to buy a bag or can't remember to bring your own. very respectfully a happy aldi shopper manon kavesky

    1. Merchants other than grocery

      What would B-K, Taco Bell, McDonalds etc. do ?  I assume a significant proportion of customers have take-out and thus need the plastic/paper bags they have.  I really doubt customers would bring their own re-cycle bags.  I imagine a number of mainline 'sit-down' restaurants also have a meaningful number of customers who take out. 

      While the Council and some residents would love to see fast food stores go out of business, most people would not and the Evanston economy would be substantially hurt.

      If fast food, 'sit-down' restaurants, bookstores, clothing stores, liquor, etc. are exempt, would not the grocery stores file suit for discriminatory/selective laws and enforcement ?   All we need are more lawsuits against the city i.e. TAXPAYERS !

  14. If it costs the city $

    The only reason the city should consider such a tax is if the bags exert a direct cost to the city (ie cleaning them up from city property). This tax should be based upon a calculation of the cost imposed upon the city (if they could figure one out). As a person who usually uses reusable bags, I think a ban is asinine, since the alternatives: paper (worse for the environment and more expensive, the cost of which would be passed to customers) and reusable (not always on hand and carry germs) have shortcoming as well. Also many people use plastic bags for garbage and to carry lunch. Otherwise, these busy bodies should mind their own business and stop trying to tell us how to live.

  15. Another Reason…

    I generally love living in the town of Evanston, but the enlightened despots at the Civic Center are making that very difficult for me.

    The proposed ban is nothing short of insane.  For me, the direct impact will be that, with very few exceptions, I will make every effort to keep my shopping dollars out of Evanston. 

    When the time comes, my property tax dollars will go as well when I move someplace else.

  16. Plastic Bag Ban—Again

    Given Chicago's recent action, Evanston Council is again discussing a ban on plastic bags.

    I recycle all may bags—i.e. re-use all I can and take the rest to Jewel.

    I use plastic bags because I walk or bike to the stores and usually fill five to six bags per trip to the grocery store.  With paper bags that would be impossible and you can't fit nearly enough cloth bags in a back-pack.  Neither would business people want or be able to fit them in their brief case so they can shop on the way from the train—instead they would go home and DRIVE back.

    The Council would do much better to tax all the bottles [those who use or discard plastic water bottles show they will pay anything [probably even air] so will pay any tax] and can since it is far more frequent that I see them on the streets than plastic bags—though I and a number of concerned residents pick-up each of those when we see them—and many are left for days on the lawns of our wealthy neighbors–many of whom I'm sure say they are enviormentalist and even protest plastic bags.

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