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Chicago's bag tax brings significant drop in disposable bag use, study finds

Written by
Jonathan Samples

When it comes to paper or plastic, a lot of Chicagoans are choosing neither. A new study found that the city's 7-cent bag tax has led to a "dramatic decrease" in the number of shoppers opting to use a disposable bag when they checkout.

The University of Chicago’s Energy and Environment Lab teamed up with researchers from ideas42 and New York University to determine what effects the new law has had on disposable bag use since being implemented on Feb 1—their findings were striking. According to the study, 82 percent of Chicagoans used at least one disposable bag during trips to the store before the tax went into effect. That number dropped more than 30 percentage points after the city began collecting the new tax, with only 48.8 percent of customers continuing to use a disposable bag at checkout.

Additionally, the average number of disposable bags used per trip dropped from 2.3 before the tax to just one bag per shopper after—that amounts to a 42 percent drop in the total number of bags used. The findings suggest that even those customers who continue to use disposable bags are figuring out ways to make do with fewer, and those are results the city can live with.

Chris Wheat, chief sustainability officer for the city, told the Sun-Times that the study's findings suggest the bag tax is working. “Seven cents has seemed to be a pretty significant incentive for people to reduce bag use... And we think that, over time, that bag use will continue to go down,” he said.

The assertion that disposable bag use will continue to go down is also backed up by the study. Researchers found that the percentage of customers who brought their own reusable bag increased from 13 to 33 percent. So if you haven't already, now's the time to start saving some money and pick up one these stylish Chicago totes

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