By Eric Zorn
The woman just behind me in the checkout line at the supermarket in my Northwest Side neighborhood the other day laid nine items on the belt, including a large layer cake.
“Bags?” asked the cashier, seeing that the woman had not brought along any reusable totes, canvas sacks or other means of conveying her purchases.
“None,” said the woman. “I’ve got this.”
She proceeded to place the scanned items back in her grocery cart, presumably to take them out to her car and put them in her trunk.
Her savings? At 7 cents a bag, the mandatory fee on disposable checkout bags that’s been imposed on shoppers in Chicago since early 2017, maybe 21 cents.
I don’t know if she was motivated by the money, a desire to save the planet one item at a time or by a combination. But, as lawmakers in Springfield consider the imposition of a similar policy statewide, I do know this: Bag taxes work.
Many times in the last two years I’ve seen customers avoiding the bag tax by hand-carrying or wheeling their purchases out of city stores — occasionally in my reflection in the shop’s front windows.
After Chicago’s tax was implemented, the percentage of those declining the offer of any kind of bag rose to 21.5% from 8%, according to “Skipping the Bag,” a September 2018 report by a University of Chicago/New York University research team. One in 3 customers now bring reusable bags, up from 13% before the tax, and the number crunchers estimated that the tax led to an overall 42% reduction in the average number of disposable bags used per shopping trip.
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