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City Expects To Rake In $5.9M From Chicagoans Paying For Plastic, Paper Bags Next Year

The city thinks more people will forget their reusable bags in 2019, or just get used to the 7-cents-per-bag tax.

The city thinks more people will forget their reusable bags in 2019, or just get used to the 7-cents-per-bag tax.
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DOWNTOWN — City officials expect to collect $900,000 more in 2019 from Chicagoans who a pay a 7-cents-per-bag tax as compared with what the city is on track to collect this year, budget documents reveal.

The city’s just-approved $10.67 billion 2019 spending plan estimates that the city will rake in $5.9 million from people who don’t bother — or forget — to bring reusable bags when shopping.

The city is on track to collect $5 million in 2018 from the tax designed to keep the disposable sacks out of area landfills. That estimate is in line with budget estimates included in the city’s 2018 spending plan, said Kristen Cabanban, a spokesperson for the city’s budget office.

The city won’t publish year-to-date revenue collection numbers until the end of the calendar year, Cabanban said.

Read all of The Daily Line’s coverage of Chicago’s 2019 budget here

The tax was prompted after the city’s ban on single-use, thin plastic bags approved by the City Council in 2014 was largely considered a failure after many retailers switched to thicker, reusable plastic bags that were considered worse for the environment.

The city gets a nickel from the sale of each bag, with the store owner getting the other two cents.

When the tax went into effect in February 2017, city officials had initially expected it to add $9.2 million to the city’s coffers in its first year, according to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2018 spending plan.

However, the tax had a nearly immediate effect on shoppers’ behavior, with the number of plastic and paper bags Chicagoans used to haul home their groceries dropping 42 percent in the first month, according to a study paid for by the city.

It is not shocking that the city expects shoppers to use more plastic and paper bags in the tax’s second full year, said Jordan Parker, the founder and executive director of Bring Your Bag Chicago, an advocacy group that helped shape the city’s tax.

“People get lazy, and people get used to paying that 7-cent tax,” Parker said, adding that the number of plastic and paper bags used in Washington, D.C. rose in the second year after city leaders imposed a tax similar to the one in Chicago.

City officials should push large stories to retrain their cashiers to ask shoppers whether they want to buy a bag when they check out — to make sure that they understand the cost of forgetting to make a note to bring a tote, Parker said.

“It is a tug of war,” Parker said. “The city wants that revenue, and we want it to be a trickling, stable revenue stream.”

Parker said her group planned to push city officials to raise the tax from 7 cents to 10 or 12 cents starting in the spring, once final revenue data has been released.

“People need to be aware they are paying this tax,” Parker said. “Loss aversion is way more effective than anything else we have tried.”

Parker, who is managing the campaign of Erika Wozniak Francis, who is running to unseat 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman, said she was confident that the next mayor and City Council would be “more progressive” and open to raising the tax.

“Everything will be different,” Parker said.

Jen Walling, the executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, which pushed for the tax, said the group “would expect the city to continue to honor its commitment to educational program and bag giveaways related to this tax.”