Chicago Bag Ban – A Customer Friendly Bag Ban

Chicago City Hall Green Rooftop Garden by Conservation Design Forum (Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons)

Chicago’s Plastic Bag Ban is truly a unique ordinance. While the ordinance contains features found in many other bag bans across the nation, some features such as a mandatory minimum fee for store provided paper and plastic reusable bags is not included. The ordinance can therefore be said to be customer friendly.

The ordinance was passed by the City Council in 2014 and took effect on 1 August 2015 for stores with a floor area 10,000 square feet or more and 1 August 2016 for stores less than 10,000 square feet. The ban is applicable to chain stores “that sell perishable or non-perishable goods, including, but not limited to clothing, food, and personal items” where “chain store” is defined as “three or more stores having common ownership or any store, regardless of ownership, that is part of a franchise”. The ordinance is not applicable to dine in or take out restaurants or any store that is not defined as a “chain” store. (City of Chicago, 2014)

Because the bag ban exempts any store that is not a chain store, as defined in the ordinance, one could conclude that the ordinance is also small business friendly. For example, a neighborhood mom & pop grocery store or a fabric store could continue providing their customers with thin-film plastic carryout bags.

Stores subject to the bag ban ordinance must “provide reusable bags, recyclable paper bags, or commercially compostable plastic bags, or any combination thereof, to customers for the purpose of enabling the customer to carry away goods from the point of sale”. (City of Chicago, 2014)

The bag ban does not specifically impose a bag fee nor prohibits stores from imposing a fee for store-provided paper and reusable bags.

According to the article “Six months in, Chicago’s plastic bag ban a mixed bag” by Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, some stores are charging a 10-cent fee for store provided bags but most of the large grocers are giving away thicker plastic bags in place of the flimsy “T-Shirt” carryout bags. (Elejalde-Ruiz, 2016)

In a commentary published in the Chicago Tribune titled “Chicago’s misguided plastic bag ban” the author Erik Telford makes the statement that the bag ban is a “poorly designed policy gone awry” and that “the city took a half-hearted approach to regulating plastic bag use”. The author also points out that bag ban advocates want the city to add a mandatory minimum fee for store provided paper and reusable bags and one of the city’s aldermen even wants to increase the thickness of plastic reusable bags so that stores have no choice but to charge customers for them. In addition, the author’s summary paragraph says it all: Chicago’s ill-conceived plastic bag ban is the latest reminder of the dangers inherent in big government programs. New regulations almost always have unforeseen consequences. Advocating for behavior change through force of law can easily end up leaving a city worse off than it was before. (Telford, 2016)



City of Chicago. (2014, December 22). Plastic Bag Ban Will Take Effect on August 1, 2015. Retrieved from City of Chicago:

Elejalde-Ruiz, A. (2016, February 1). Six months in, Chicago’s plastic bag ban a mixed bag. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune:

Telford, E. (2016, February 25). Commentary: Chicago’s misguided plastic bag ban. Retrieved from Chicago Tribune: