Energy & Environment Lab Chicago Bag Tax Study

One hundred billion plastic bags are used annually in America, where the majority end up in landfills, taking up to an estimated 1,000 years to decompose. In addition, paper bags also have significant environmental impacts—in 2015, paper production contributed to 20% of all toxic air releases in the US.

In early 2017, in an effort to curb disposable bag use, the City of Chicago implemented a seven-cent tax on all paper and plastic checkout bags. In partnership with ideas42 and New York University, the Energy & Environment Lab set to work to understand the effect of the tax.

Preliminary results from a study of over 14,000 grocery shoppers show that the tax has significantly impacted customer behavior. Before the tax, customers used an average of just over two disposable bags per trip. After the tax, the average number of disposable bags decreased by roughly one bag per trip—over a 40% decrease. Additionally, less than 50% of customers in Chicago used any disposable bags after the tax was implemented—a decrease of more than 30%.

The Energy & Environment Lab plans to continue working with our partners on the longer-term behavioral effects of this tax.

Preliminary Results Memo