Chicago bag tax: Getting your 7 cents worth

Chicago bag tax: Getting your 7 cents worth

Starting February 1, 2017, Chicagoan’s will be paying $.07 per checkout bag sold or used in Chicago, with $.02 remaining with the retailer and $.05 paid to the City for those who don’t bring their own bags.

Even though $ .07 doesn’t seem like a significant amount–it can add up.

Although the citywide tax applies to almost all retailers, the majority of bags are used by grocery stores.

With this in mind, Show Me Chicago shopped the city’s largest markets (super–not stock) for the best bags for our $ .07.

Here’s what we found.

First off, since the tax is the same for paper as plastic–no matter the size–in most cases we recommend, paper, please.

The paper bags at all stores we visited (list below) were larger than the plastic–meaning they can hold more items–more items = less bags, less tax.

After determining this, we judged the bags on the following criteria: strength, size and ease of carrying—aka handles.

We looked at five large Chicago grocery chains: Jewel-Osco, Trader Joe’s, Mariano’s, Target and Whole Foods.

Here are our non-scientific findings:


Paper grocery bags from four of the stores we visited. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Strongest bags: Whole Foods and Mariano’s.

Handles: Whole Foods, Mariano’s, Trader Joe’s, Jewel (sometimes).

Jewel offers paper bags with and without handles. We have found you have to request what you want or you will be given plastic. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Jewel offers paper bags with and without handles. We have found you have to request what you want or you will be given plastic. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Size: Whole Foods, Mariano’s and Jewel have the largest bags of the stores we surveyed–all approximately equal in size. Trader Joe’s bags are considerably smaller as you can see in the above photo of the 4 bags side by side.

The 1000 lb. elephant in the room: Target. According to our sources, Target does not offer paper bags (although somewhere in the recesses of my mind I thought I remembered seeing them at some Super Target stores). We have a request into the corporate office to set the record straight. Until then we will go with what we were told by our local Target store manager who said, “Target does NOT offer paper bags. We offer three sizes of plastic bags–small, medium and large.” UPDATE: Target Corporate office confirmed that they have ONLY plastic bags for customer purchases or reusable bags for purchase. A nice benefit, Target pays the customer $0.05 for each reusable bag used at all of their stores–so it’s a win-win (some other retailers also offer similar bonuses including Whole Foods) .

For fans of plastic bags, Mariano’s and Target offer the largest plastic bags.


Retailers have the option of “eating the tax” or passing it on to their customers. Currently, it seems, most stores including Walgreens, Jewel-Osco, Whole Foods Market, Mariano’s, Target, CVS, PetSmart and T.J. Maxx will have their customers footing the 7-cent per bag charges.


Some bags are non-taxable or exempt including dry cleaning bags as well as bags provided by a pharmacist for prescription drugs. For a complete list of exempt bags and other Chicago checkout bag regulations, click here.


Of course, the reported goal of the bag tax is to get people to bring their own reusable bags to stores when they shop.

Reusable solutions at Heinens. Photo: Niki Walsh

Reusable solutions. Photo: Niki Walsh

This is certainly the best option for the environment and can even be fun.

Customers can also expect to see many attractive and budget friendly options such as this display, pictured here, at Heinen’s in Lake Bluff.


On Wednesday, February 1st, some stores will be giving away free reusable bags including Whole Foods (first 1,000 customers at all Chicago stores) and Target (first 200 customers at all 16 Chicago locations).

On Wednesday evening 25,000 free, reusable “Chi Bags” will be available outside of seven CTA stations, TBA.

If you are serious about wanting to save money, not to mention, save the environment, come Wednesday, you may want to Bring Your Own Bags–putting a whole new spin on BYOB.

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Filed under: Chicago Food, Chicago News

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