Evanston’s Environment Board is resuming a push to tax the use of paper and plastic carryout bags in the city.

Public opposition sent earlier plans for a bag tax or ban back to the drawing board in June, with Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, asking the panel to investigate whether an educational campaign would be better than legislation in discouraging wasteful bag use.

But a memo from the Environment Board submitted to aldermen Monday night advocates a five-cent tax on paper and plastic carryout bags and provides no data on the relative effectiveness and costs of either voluntary or legislatively-mandated approaches to the issue.

Under the new plan, merchants would get to keep two-cents of the bag fee and the rest would be designated for use for educational programs at the city’s Ecology Center.

The memo didn’t include an estimate of how much money the bag tax might generate, but advocates, including Michael Drennan of 820 Oakton St., claim that city residents use as many as 25 million disposable plastic bags a year.

If the tax cut such usage in half, it still would generate $375,000 a year to fund the environmentalists’ favorite city programs.

The memo does not discuss any enforcement costs associated with imposing the tax or how those costs would be paid for.

Aldermen, who were scheduled to discuss the the proposal Monday night, instead put it off until next Monday, after discussion of other topics ran longer than expected.

The bag tax idea has been floating around, like a carelessly disgarded plastic bag, for over a year now.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. I think the people of

    I think the people of Evanston need to focus on more important issues of getting some better support businesses to the community to off set higher taxes. Stop wasting time on plastic bags and windmills and start getting some bigger stores, an entertainment venue, and some solid restaurant/bars to town. Draw the crowd by having some more festivals. Evanston keeps driving the businesses out instead of in.  Bunch of idiots with their leaf blower ordinance also.  Oh Yea, and the mayor wants to make marijuana possession a ticket offense. Good luck with the neighborhoods then!  You will have a bunch of gang bangers standing around smoking and selling weed.  The Blind leading the Blind. Sorry this is harsh but wake up Evanston………

  2. Why not tax newspapers?

    Just as the Evanston City Manager proposes an 8 percent tax hike here comes the Environmental Board again proposing a 5 cent tax on carryout bags.

    The bag tax issue should have been immediately voted down when it first came to the Council. But no, aldermen kicked it back down for more study and voila, it's coming back to the Council in basically the same form.

    The Council had better end this issue once and for all and do it quickly because I am sensing incredible outrage at the direction this city is going. Everyone I talk to is hopping mad.

    Even after all incumbents are voted out it will take longer just to undo the damage. The bag tax, the continuous city tax hikes, parking fee hikes, liquor license denial to a restaurant because of its dress code and a mysterious list of landlords who allegedly and unknowingly are violating a building ordinance has labeled Evanston an unfriendly place for businesses, investors and homeowners. Our property values have been negatively affected from these poor Council policies.

    If the Environmental Board is so concerned about overuse of paper might I suggest they look at taxing the Evanston Review, Sun Times, Tribune, New York Times and the Evanston Roundtable, which I get 30 pages or so dumped on my doorstep two days a month. Consider how we can save the environment by taxing these newspapers and forcing people to get their news online rather than reading hundreds of pages of newsprint each week.

    Afterall, the Evanston Review and Evanston Roundtable has just done a great disservice to its readers by falsely reporting that our city manager is proposing a 3 percent tax hike.

    So how about it Environmental Board. Let's tax newspapers. No?

    Maybe it's time to eliminate the Environmental Board. 

    I'm ready for real change. How about you, friend?

  3. The bag police

    Why are we banning biodegradable paper bags and why is the burden being placed on the consumer? Are businesses being policed for the packaging used for their goods received? Are consumer's plastic bags really the biggest problem?

    If the reasoning for banning paper bags is that making paper bags is taxing on the environment, why then is the solution reusable bags that are not environment friendly as well? Other communities have started with a plastic bag ban rather than banning all bags. Why the rush to toss the paper baby out with the plastic one?

  4. Bag police

    Someone tell the Environmental Board to get their collective heads back out into the sunshine. What a bunch of jackasses!!! And aldermen, drop this like the idiotic idea it is.

  5. It is not a tax–fee for use

    There is no tax involved. Taxes are compulsory and generally unavoidable.

    This is a fee to displace the social costs of people's choice to use a plastic bag.

    Just like you pay a fee for parking, buisness licence etc…, this is a cost that is entirely avoidable so it is not a tax.

    1. “fee for use” on our choices

      This is a "fee for use" on PAPER and on plastic bags. You can spin it any way you'd like. In the end, people will chose to shop for goods somewhere other than Evanston, where this "fee" is totally avoidable.

    2. What Social Cost?

      Real environmentalists, and I am normally in that category, love to require impact studies before a project can get underway. So where is the impact study that justifies this government imposed fee (which is a fair definition for a tax)? The last report I saw from the City relied on ocean pollution studies which do not apply and a truly trivial amount of garbage.

      Help me out here. Tell me precisely with facts and figures what the social cost is of the current situation? Where is the data that demonstrates the need to take the proposed action with respect to either paper or plastic bags?

      Where is the study that shows that the proposed action will have the presumably desired result of reducing whatever pollution is attributable to either paper or plastic bags? Where is any report that shows the impact on merchants and consumers? In other words, is there any objective cost-benefit analysis out there or is this just dogma driven?

      If the proposed approach has no firm foundation, then it will just give environmentalism a bad name and lose friends. In the long run, that's not good.

  6. Don’t Tax my Bags!

    Oh golly, this looks like one of those solutions in search of a problem.

    If Evanstonians really use 25 million disposable plastic bags a year, that averages to 68,493 bags a day or close to one plastic bag per resident per day. We must be doing a pretty good job of disposing of them, though, through recycling or other use because you do not see the daily 68,493 bags strewn around town.

    And if a bag pollution problem really did exist, wouldn't the first approach be to educate people about recycling, and then, if the facts warranted it, to require that the bags biodegrade? I could understand why merchants in Wilmette and Skokie would support this, but why would any serious person in Evanston want to impose this annoying tax?

  7. Here we go again

    What part of public opposition to the original plan did they not get? Who the heck from the Environmental Board thought up this little gem? Do they not understand basic business economics or are they just focused on driving business out of the city? Unless you do this on a State level it will only force people to shop in the next town over. It is not about who gets to keep what portion of the tax. It is about the consumer not wanting to be taxed.

    I beg the City Counsel to wrap up this proposal in a little white baggy, head to nearest bathroom and flush it. Once the swirling of the bowl is gone, head back to the Council Room and write a nicely worded letter to the Environmental Board that states the following;

    Dear Environmental Board,

    The Council has received your proposal and after careful consideration we have filed it accordingly.

  8. Not a tax but fee for use?

    What are you talking about when you say a Fee for Use? That makes absolutely no sense what so ever. Any tax is avoidable if you choose not to spend money or sell anything. Do I choose to take a plane ride? Yes. Do I choose to be forced to stand in line for an hour to be searched head to toe to get onto a plane. No. But I have to do it if I want to get on the plane and pay a tax for it.

    Do I choose to go to my local grocery store to buy food on my way home from work. Yes. Do I choose to dump all my loose items into the back of my car. No. But if Evanston Council passes this thing, I have to pay a TAX so I can place them into a bag.

    Call it what you want. Spin it the way you want. Bottom line it is a TAX that cannot be avoided.

    Stop trying to spin it as if we are too stupid figure out what a tax is. If that is the Environment Board's logic, then they must think we are a bunch of idiots.

    I only hope that our City Council has enough sense to drop this nonsense and move on to more important things.

  9. first things first – enforce our recycling rules

    I have been asking city officials why the rules for the city's
    recycling program are not enforced. Can you imagine property standards
    rules, zoning rules, traffic rules, fire safety rules simply being
    ignored? Why then with recycling?

    This is an important issue because everything that isn' t allowed by
    the program ends up taking an extra long trip to the landfill by way
    of Groot's Itasca materials reprocessing facility. It's an expensive
    and completely un-necessary way to collect garbage. Groot is happy to
    do it because they haul garbage (and charge for it). They will make a
    profit no matter what we throw into the blue toters.

    But their recycling facility is equipped to handle certain kinds of
    paper, plastic containers with recycling numbers on them and cans made
    of aluminum and tin or steel. It separates by means of gravity and air
    flow. It relies on shaking mixed materials to separate them, something
    that is impossible with items placed in plastic bags (which also jam the machinery).

    This means extra man-power is required at Groot to UN-BAG everything
    that Evanstonians place in plastic bags so neatly and so contrary to the rules.

    What is the cost of enforcement? Nothing. Simply instructing drivers
    not to pick up toters with plastic-bagged items or non-recyclable
    items while slapping a non-compliance sticker on the toter would
    involve less work for employees and the program would be back in
    compliance within a matter of weeks. Would you like to have a full toter sitting for weeks?

    But not a thing has been done. I have been in contact with Suzette
    Robinson, head of Public Works and Wally B.  All I get is directed to
    people that have no ability to do anything about the problem or told
    that something may be done in the future – in other words a huge smoke screen.

    I routinely see styrofoam, clothes hangers, cookware, shipping
    popcorn, plastic bubble wrap, plastic grocery bags either containing
    recyclables or stuffed with more grocery bags, pieces of wood, used
    diapers, umbrellas, metal car parts, leaves and branches and much much
    more. I have provided photos of all of this to the city to no avail.

    My conclusion? Recycling, for all the resources required to field the
    crews and trucks and toters, is simply of no consequence to the city.
    As long as Evanston can say it is abiding by state law that requires a
    recycling program, anything can be thrown into those toters and picked up.

    It's an outrage and a neglect of responsibility.

  10. Bag ordinance a good idea

    This comes close to what I read the City Council last night. 

    Thank you Ms. Mayor and the council for again putting aside the pressing issues of today to consider a bag ordinance for Evanston.  An issue for our grandchildren, the continued presence of these bags blowing about our streets, snagging branches and power lines, clogging our drains and drowning our oceans reminds us; do something now, quickly!  So join me in giving thanks to the Environment Board.  The community sent them something of a trick question this spring; should we tax this pollution away, or ban it outright?  Education, and a subtle change in behavior well help clean our waterways, lessen the trash at landfills and transfer stations.  Bring your own bag.

    The Environment Board left the decision to the consumer, asking simply that we express our values in the transaction.  A fee, modest and avoidable, should gently remind the consumer of the bags they left in the back seat.  Tonight as you review their reasoning, consider the numbers.  Bags consumed in the US by the number of shopping age adults.  Multiply by that population in Evanston, and you're looking at about 25 million plastic, and 2 million paper bags.  Whether you make the fee a polite reminder or a wrist slap, acknowledge the finite nature of the resulting revenue, and plan accordingly.  Consider the current needs of the general fund of course, but also the opportunities this provides for moving Evanston onto sustainable footing, and the tools available to do so.  We have an Ecology Center crying out for support, and a Climate Action Fund tailor made to handle the disbursement of such revenue; but not for us.  Again, we're just thinking of the kids now.  Good night.

    1. We have social programs

      and the libraries and increased safety at the high school crying out for support.  Wouldn't these be a better focus for the children?  

    2. Bags, bags, bags..

      I suggest that the econazis show their solidarity and support for this bag tax  by placing plastic bags over their heads as a sign of support for this nanny action and to hide more major problems. As an added civic bonus they could carry plastic cups to collect money to help pay our pension obligations.

    3. This is not gentle or avoidable

      It must be nice for your to live inside that little bubble of yours.

      You assume that everyone drives a car and has a convenient place to store these little extra baggies you speak of. So if they don't have a car then people are expected to just carry around a sack of spare bags with them?

      Not everyone has the luxury of a car. Not everyone has the luxury to rearrange their work schedule to make it home, grab the sack of baggies and then back to the store.

      Some people have spouses who work another job. Some of those people have kids that need to eat and dinner must be purchased on the way home from work.

      It is not a gentle or avoidable at all. To paint this thing into something it is not is absolutely absurd. It is even more absurd to use kids as a way to support an already weak argument.

      Stop trying to paint this thing into something that it is not. Call it for what it is. A TAX…. Stop staying it is avoidable because I can come up with a thousand reasons as to why it is not.

    4. Response to “Bag Ordinance A Good Idea”

      Michael – thank you.  I agree with and support the bag ordinance for a variety of reasons.

      For those of you who are against paying for bags, they really are not free to begin with. 

      At the front end, stores are marking up the cost of goods to pay for the cost of the bags.  Why should those people who take their own bags pay overhead for those that do not and who may even be double and triple-bagging their items?  The issue with this effort is that it is being called a tax.  It should really be called a bag cost and stores should charge consumers for the number of bags a consumer needs period.  For those that take their own carryall, they would not be charged for what they are not using.  Any fiscal-minded consumer out there should be in support of this move because its outcome is simple.  The cost of other consumers' purchases and how they get them out of a store would not be paid for by you – we all pay our own way.

      At the back end, plastic bags are terrible for our natural environment.  In September of 2003, National Geographic ran an article titled Are Plastic Grocery Bags Sacking the Environment?

      An excerpt from this piece states that these "totes are everywhere. They sit balled up and stuffed into the one that hangs from the pantry door. They line bathroom trash bins. They carry clothes to the gym. They clutter landfills. They flap from trees. They float in the breeze. They clog roadside drains. They drift on the high seas. They fill sea turtle bellies.

      "The numbers are absolutely staggering," said Vincent Cobb, an entrepreneur in Chicago, Illinois, who recently launched the Web site to educate the public about what he terms the "true costs" associated with the spread of "free" bags. He sells reusable bags as a viable solution.

      According to Cobb's calculations extrapolated from data released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 on U.S. plastic bag, sack, and wrap consumption, somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Of those, millions end up in the litter stream outside of landfills—estimates range from less than one to three percent of the bags."

      If we were already talking about this in 2003, why has it taken us so long to get moving on it?  Today we know even more on the subject, including how these bags are breaking down into our water sources and we are drinking their chemical components.

      If actually paying for a thing we are personally using is what it takes for us to begin thinking about how much we 'consume,' I am all for it.  Stop complaining about having to pay for what you are using and stop asking your fellow shoppers to support your addiction to these bags, however many you are using.

      Anti-bag paying folks, bring on the biting replies.

      1. Recycle not tax

        Why then are you backing the taxing of paper bag use? What is the current impact of paper and plastic bag use in regard to Evanston directly? How many bags are currently recycled an how much of the city's revenue went directly to environmental woes created by paper and plastic bags used by consumers? Please provide theses data rather than the world impact.

        Could you also factor in unemployment and fixed incomes in Evanston so we know how everyone, not just the currently employed using cars could be impacted by the tax.

    5. Priorities

      And this is a priority, in the midst of one of the worst recessions ever, when our city is bankrupt and in debt and when people cannot find jobs and our empty storefronts continue to rise.

      And this is what you demagogue with the reference to the children, trying to pray on our emotion with your environmental agenda.  

      And this is what you propose to our businesses here in Evanston (regardless of the "profit share")?

      Is it not difficult enough to do business here in Evanston?

      Is it not difficult just to LIVE in Evanston with the increasing taxes, fees and regulations?

      This is nothing more than a TAX. 

      And is nothing more than a vehicle to fund your Board's pet projects.

      I use plastic bags frequently, for many more things than you can ever imagine (i.e. Dog Crap, etc.).

      So, stay out of my life, stop trying to dictate what I can and cannot have, what we collectively can and cannot have… because we are losing a ton here in Evanston thanks to BAD POLICY.


  11. biobags

    Completely compostable, bio bags are just now hitting the market at a somewhat reasonable cost.  The "thank you" bag shown above currently cost a touch above a penny wholesale.  Compostable bio has now dropped down to about 20 cents per bag, which is a massive drop from just a year ago.  These bags do not decompose into the little bits of "biodegradable"  plastic that enrage so many environmentalist, but go completely to ground in a pretty short period of time, around 180 days in an environment, like your backyard compost pile.  They are made from vegetable starchs, with no petrochemical additives which make them different and better than the biodegradable bags. 

    While the cost is higher it is now approaching a level where some of us merchants can now consider it usable.  It is also now literally just being distributed by major wholesale carriers, something not readily available even 2 months ago.  My major purveyor just brought the product to me 2 weeks ago with steady distribution a goal by year end.  There are issues in that the bags literally and quickly biodegrade with the pasage of time, so just in time production, warehousing, distribution and end use are an issue. Having the major corporations pick that up for wholesale delivery is huge, makes availability easier, timely and creates demand that will further drive down cost from scale.

    I believe the corporations that have been working on this compostable/completely biobag product is where the real solution lies for all consumer plastic.  The bag tax covers almost nothing in the overall use of plastic in the consumer world and amounts to really nothing more than a feel good knee jerk reaction by activist with an agenda.  They should be helping business manage and afford adoption of this product and quit with that nutty bag tax.  Major cities are already working on that and have already moved past bag tax talk into how to get this user adopted, drive cost lower and create composting on a larger scale.     

  12. Bag tax motivation

    Yesterday I just posted about the biobag info and didn't notice that at basically the same time a post was put up by one of the major proponents of this tax.  I was wondering why no discussion of biobags was being brought forward in this discussion by our environmental board, but his post raised a flag to look for a different explanation.

    Forget all that talk about his children, my children and your children, bio bags are a better long term solution than the tax.  Biobag technology is also going into all types of disposables, glasses, containers, etc, moving us into the realm of solutions for a broad range of products.  (No I don't own stock in a biobag company, but maybe I should consider)

    The lines about an "Ecology Center crying out for support" and a "climate action fund tailor made to handle the disbursement of such revenue" I believe shines a very illuminating light on some underlying motivations and maybe explains why the biobag discussion has not been brought up in any meaningful way by our very own environment board, why they keep pushing for this tax. 

    Somewhere around $400K in yearly revenue can create a lot of motivated design schemes. I smell something, and it's got nothing to do with composting bags or real solutions for disposing of bags but everything to do with filling bags with money.

  13. Little effort, easy results for town claiming green credentials

    What a disappointment. I see now how spineless city council is. On their website there are big claims of their environmental mindedness, and yet when it comes to implementing the simplest thing, nothing is done.

    Having two Whole Foods does not make you green, Evanston.

    Rebutting Wilson from Monday, I compute, at 10 bags each grocery trip, say 50 weeks a year amounts to… $25 dollars over the entire year! And this is only if you are so lazy as to never bring a bag from home.

    As far as reprogramming cash registers… don't shops change their stock all the time? Add it to the list of items next time the store updates it's pricelist and items for sale. Any supermarket would do this weekly. 

    The laziest shoppers might perhaps decide to drive further out of town burning the money saved bags on fuel to get there, but a better idea would be to have all the affluent North Shore townships implement this minute bag tax.

    Lets be realistic. The implementation costs are low, the psychological impact of an avoidable fee at the checkout is great, but the over-all inconvenience slight and only at first, and the results come easily.

    1. Not really as simple as you would want it to be

      Simple and lazy? I think you're glossing over a lot of issues people have with this tax for very good reasons. Also an Alderman should represent everyone in their ward, not just the affluent North Shore and those with money to throw away on a new tax.

      The tax is not as straight forward as you propose it is. DC had  problems with self serve cash registers; like we have in CVS and Jewels stores – the tax could not be easily applied in DC and required extra clerks – big overhead issue. So it is not as easy as reprogramming your register. Also this is a tax it is more complicated than a price change. It is levied on a per bag not per dollar basis so there is no way to preprogram. The lines get longer when transactions take longer, you have to train staff.  And if you take away "disposable" income via a tax, other purchases will not be made over the year.

      San Francisoco and Seattle found that education on waste and efforts to make recycling programs prevelant easier to use worked better than banning the bag or proposing taxes. Even Berkeley, CA did not agree to this tax.

      You may only need a bag (recyclable or not) at the grocery store, others however use them at the pharmacy, clothing stores, book stores, and coffee shops and bakeries. Some items do not fit neatly in a recyclable bag and others should not come in contact with food. So it may that your estimated dollar amount per year is off quite a bit.

      Also it is not clear how widely this tax will be applied. Will the paper bags Uncle Dan's be taxed too or just those at the grocery store?

      Lazy shoppers in your scenario must be the ones on fixed incomes? The non-affluent of the North Shore? Those who look for cost savings and shop around already?  It would be much easier to shop in the Lincolnwood area where lower prices (and better parking) balance the high prices of some grocery stores in Evanston. With a bag tax does the incentive to shop around get even higher?

      When you say affluent I think you had better check the demographics. Not everyone has extra income in Evanston. Not every one can dump money into a TAX that is not necessary when public education and easier access to recycling has not been tried first.

  14. Bag Tax (or pay-per-bag), A quick look at what others achieved

    Submitted by Brian Becharas a few minutes ago under "Bag tax plan trashed by aldermen" comments – on Thursday, October 27, 2011, at 11:01 am… I wanted to share with this group.

    A quick Google can lead you down the path of your choice…  here are a few from the top 10 when "plastic bag recycling" is entered into the search box of Google.

    Plastic Bag Tax: Small Incentive, Big Result : Planet Money : NPR…/09/…/plastic-bag-tax-small-incentive-big-result
    Sep 20, 2010 – A five-cent tax on plastic shopping bags has cut the use of the bags by more than half in Washington, D.C. It's a compelling example of how a …

    Plastic Bags Used in DC Drop From 22 Million to 3 Million a Month

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