Chicago to Charge Tax for Paper and Plastic Bags

Eileen O'Gorman | The PHOENIXChicago will see a 7 cent tax on plastic and paper bags starting Jan. 1.

Shoppers in Chicago might want to start stocking up on reusable bags now if they don’t want to pay an extra fee of 7 cents for every plastic or paper bag used in stores.

The new tax will be enacted Jan. 1. Of the tax, 5 cents will go to the store, and 2 cents will go to the city.

The goal of the tax is to decrease paper and plastic use in an effort to make the city more eco-friendly. In 2015, the City of Chicago banned thin plastic bags, but stores continued to provide the same amount of plastic bags for their shoppers, eliminating the environmental benefit of the ban. But at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2017 budget address, he proposed taxes for bags in order to increase city funding, including for schools. Chicago City Council approved the tax Nov. 16.

Thoughts on the plastic bag tax are mixed. Some students said they think the tax should have been implemented years ago.

“I used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where this actually has been a thing for about two years now,” said first-year nursing major Alise Sartori. “It’s 10 cents a bag, and it was always paper or thick plastic, like at Target, so the bag could be reused.”

Sartori said that when she moved to Illinois in the summer, the amount of plastic bags used every day surprised and upset her.

“I’ve only heard like one or two people complain about the plastic bag cost. It really is not hard to keep a stash of reusable bags in the trunk of your car, either,” Sartori said. “They last forever, unlike plastic or paper that can easily rip, and not to mention [reusable bags] are much cuter than Wal-Mart bags.”

While the 18-year-old has heard few complaints about the new tax, some small business owners worry that their customers will be angry about the extra cost.

“I think it would be something hard for smaller businesses, but for larger businesses, it’s fine,” said Marilyn Quito, an employee AVP Jewelry and Beads in Edgewater. “The reason they’re doing it is good, but it would be hurtful for smaller businesses.”

The jewelry store where she works only uses about 20 bags per day, according to Quito. She said she feels conflicted about the tax; she hopes it will help the environment but also fears customers’ reactions to paying extra at a locally owned business.

Mike Khoury, the owner of Castle Food and Liquor in Edgewater, said he’s opposed to the tax. His company gives out nearly 500 plastic bags to customers every day.

“It’s going to be hard to implement,” said Khoury, who has been working at his store for 30 years. “I have a lot of customers who do use the reusable bags — about 10 percent use those — but now, that’ll change with this. People have to adapt to it, I guess. It’s forced upon us, so it has to stick. I mean, what choice do we have?”

Khoury is right that both small businesses and chain stores are required to have their customers pay to use bags. While the tax may help decrease the number of plastic and paper bags in the city, it could also hurt Chicago’s businesses.

The Phoenix spoke with employees from three other businesses, including CVS, Metropolis Coffee and 7-Eleven, and they had not heard of the new tax. Come Jan. 1, customers and employers will see how Chicago reacts.

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