The City of Chicago gave residents a new answer to the “paper or plastic?” question. On Feb. 1, the plastic and paper bag tax took effect in all wards across the city of Chicago, requiring customers to pay 7 cents for every paper or plastic bag they use at all stores and was met with some negative reviews.
The new tax is designed to provide residents with an incentive to utilize reusable bags, decreasing unnecessary waste in landfills. Opinions on the new tax vary. Some praise the environmental benefits while many small business owners have complained that the additional cost favors larger stores.
“I would say that we have heard the most from smaller retailers whose customers are much more price sensitive,” said Bob Fuller, legislative aide to 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore. “They’re [small retailer customers] coming in with exactly how much money they need to buy a product. For those folks who have less money to go towards the bag tax it’s more difficult for them, but we’ve heard some retailers are happy to just pay for the bag themselves because their customers don’t always have the extra 7 cents.”
While Fuller said some retailers are willing to chip in, a few small business owners in Rogers Park aren’t happy to have to pay for bags they already bought. Alfonsus S. Mtamere, owner of Unan Imports, a small jewelry store on North Sheridan Road, said he feels he has to cover the cost for his customers’ bags to maintain good standing with his buyers.
“For customers and myself, it discourages the customers from buying anything they can’t carry in their hands,” said Mtamere. “The only easy way out is for the business to absolve the cost. The customer-business relationship doesn’t look so good if they don’t.”
The tax also applies to bags given out at Loyola’s campus bookstores, the Damen “L Stop” gift shop and the apparel shop at all Loyola basketball games.
“We have signs in the bookstore right at the counter that tell students there’s a bag tax as well as everywhere else,” said Mani Pillai, store manager of the Lake Shore Campus bookstore and the Damen gift shop. “We tell them straight up front before we charge them.”
Retailers are able to keep 2 of the 7 cents, while the other 5 cents go back to the city. Fuller said chain companies are more likely to benefit from this condition of the tax because they can give out fewer bags to customers, but still recoup 2 cents on the ones they hand out.
First-year Loyola student Matthew Fix said he’s in favor of the tax, but believes that people don’t think about the effect it could have on small stores.
“I always use my own reusable bags so the tax doesn’t really apply to me,” said the environmental policy major. “But I guess there’s a potential it would hurt small businesses.”
One threat to both chain and independently-owned stores in Rogers Park is their close proximity to Evanston, which doesn’t have a plastic bag tax in place.
“Customers will just go three blocks away and go to Evanston and not have to pay the tax and get their groceries there,” said Peter Poulos, store manager at Rogers Park Fruit Market at the intersection of N. Clark Street and N. Rogers Avenue.
Poulos said he believes the introduction of the tax has harmed the market. While he was unaware of any instances of the store covering the tax for customers, he said it was definitely possible given the monetary situation of some of their customers.
First-year Loyola student Clare Curtis said she doesn’t think the trip to Evanston is easier than investing in a reusable bag.
“It’s definitely easier to just bring a reusable bag than it is to go all the way to Evanston, for Loyola students specifically because people don’t like to go to Wilson to go to Target even,” said the 18-year-old social work major. “Now that the tax has come into play, I never forget [reusable bags] because if you forget then you’re paying for it.”
The City of Chicago gave the alderman’s office 100 reusable bags to hand out to residents. The ward still has a limited amount of bags available for free, according to Fuller.