City Council postpones final decision on plastic bag tax


Mika Ellison/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th). City Council discussed adding a tax on plastic bags Monday.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

City Council voted 8-1 to refer a 15-cent plastic bag tax back to the Human Services Committee on Monday. 

The council considered an ordinance that would levy the tax on all carry-out plastic bags sold at Evanston businesses, regardless of the business’ size. It does not, however, include bags used to package loose produce in grocery stores. Moreover, the proposal would ban plastic bags starting April 1, 2024.

Seven cents of the tax would go to the Solid Waste Fund for sustainability and waste-related programming, three cents to the Health & Human Services Department to enforce the tax and five cents to the retailer.

After debating the tax, all councilmembers except Ald. Thomas Suffredin (6th) voted to return the ordinance to the committee for amendment.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said he supports the tax because he considers it the most effective way to reduce plastic bag usage in Evanston. 

“There’s an agreement that removing plastic bags from our community will have a significant environmental impact,” Reid said.

Reid also mentioned plastic bags’ negative impact on water systems as motivation to pass the tax.

However, the other councilmembers expressed concerns about whether the tax would harm local businesses.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said he is supportive of the tax’s environmental goals but does not support the tax in its current form. 

“Given the precarious state of some of our small businesses still struggling to reemerge from the COVID economy, I’m not comfortable imposing any additional burdens, hassles or headaches on those small businesses,” Nieuwsma said. 

Nieuwsma proposed a series of amendments he devised with Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th), including reducing the tax from 15 to 10 cents and exempting businesses smaller than 10,000 square feet. He also suggested pushing back the deadline for the complete ban to January 1, 2025, in line with a similar ban in California.

Councilmembers did not vote on the ordinance or any proposed amendments. 

Several Evanston business leaders voiced their opposition to the new tax during public comment. Kelsey Bednar, the manager of local natural supplement store Walsh Natural Health, said the tax — although it may not appear to be a significant amount — could be the last straw that drives customers away from local businesses.

“Small local businesses are the lifeblood of Evanston and a significant part of what makes us unique and attractive,” Bednar said. “We wonder why the city has not seriously considered incentives for people to be environmentally conscious local shoppers.”

Bednar said instead of requiring the tax on all businesses, the city should target large corporations, such as Amazon, that bring a lot of waste to the community. 

Katherine Gotsick, the executive director of the Main-Dempster Mile business district, said Evanston businesses are supportive of the tax’s mission and are willing to work with the city on a non-tax solution.

“I strongly encourage you to consider the effect on small business in today’s up-to-the-minute context and find a way to work with the small businesses instead of against them,” Gotsick said.

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