City bag fee starts Wednesday; 7 things to know about 7-cent tax

SHARE City bag fee starts Wednesday; 7 things to know about 7-cent tax
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Sun-Times file photo

Beginning Wednesday, you’ll have to pay 7 cents for a bag at many stores across the city — the latest effort to try to cut down on the use of disposable bags.

The new tax replaces the former plastic bag ban, which city officials say didn’t work as well as they’d hoped.

Here are the basics on the new tax:

When: The 7-cent tax goes into effect Wednesday.

What: It applies to both paper and plastic bags.

Why: It’s the city’s latest initiative to get people to bring their own reusable bags, an effort to reduce the amount of trash going into landfills.

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Does it apply to every store in the city?: Yes, but it’s up to retailers to decide whether to charge customers or absorb the costs themselves.

Which retailers will make customers pay?: So far Jewel-Osco, CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens have all said they’ll pass on the cost to the public.

Is anyone exempt?: Yes. The tax doesn’t apply to bags use to carry items bought with federal food stamp benefits. When you pick up a prescription, you won’t have to pay for those bags.

Are stores offering incentives for customers who bring their own bags?: Yes. Whole Foods, Target and Mariano’s say they’ll continue to offer 5 to 10 cents back for each reusable bag.

The 7-cents-a-bag tax on paper and plastic bags is certain to leave consumers feeling even more nickeled and dimed. That’s because they will pay it every time they go to the grocery or any other Chicago store without reusable bags.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is well aware of the potential for a consumer backlash. That’s why he was ready and waiting Tuesday with his argument that the bag tax is actually an “optional” tax that shoppers can easily avoid.

“If you bring a reusable bag, you don’t pay the tax. And a lot of entities are giving out bags to help people manage through that issue,” the mayor said.

“It will advance our environmental policy. … Other cities — Seattle, New York and San Francisco — have all gone this route. We’re gonna save money on landfill costs.”

Emanuel’s argument did not work with his former chief of staff, Theresa Mintle, now president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

Mintle favors rewarding consumers for bringing re-usable bags instead of punishing those who don’t.

“We didn’t think the heavy plastic bags were the answer and we don’t think charging 7-cents-per bag is the answer, either. Much like the plastic bag ban, we’ll probably see this approach re-visited as well in a couple of years,” Mintle said.

“We would rather see an incentive program like they do at one particular food store, where you actually get a rebate if you bring in your own bag or you have an opportunity to donate to a cause, instead of just being charged and having the money go to the general coffers or to the retailer. You can incentivize them to stop doing it as opposed to just fining them.”

The bag tax was a cornerstone of Emanuel’s 2017 budget.

It stemmed from the fact that the city’s partial ban on plastic bags turned into a farce when retailers started using thicker plastic bags to get around the ban.

That’s why, in conjunction with the tax, the city is now lifting the ban on plastic bags, allowing retailers to go back to the cheaper, thinner ones.

Contributing: AP

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