As more suburban bag taxes come online, local chain flips plastic bag fee into reusable bag credit

As plastic bag fees become more widespread in the Chicago area, one chain is switching it up by offering a 10-cent credit when shoppers use reusable bags.

After Batavia City Council voted in November to implement a 10-cent bag fee at many of its stores, health food chain Fruitful Yield decided to get ahead of the new policy and encourage its shoppers to bring their own bags by doing just the opposite.

"It came to fruition based on a lot of things happening in Illinois, especially with the Batavia checkout baggage charge," Steven Cooling, Fruitful Yield customer relations manager, said. "That started the conversation on, 'What can we do?' We wanted to go the opposite direction and see if we can start rewarding the customers who are using the reusable bags and maybe start changing the minds of a lot of the customers on best practices to use less plastic."

The initiative began as an Earth Day special, originally running from April 22 to the end of May. With the program bringing in about 35 redemptions a day, the Fruitful Yield team decided to stick with it.

"It only took us a couple days to really go through the numbers and figure out that was what was best not just for us, but for the customers as well," Cooling said. "If this is something that we can get the customers to buy into, it's best for everybody because we can use a lot less plastic."

Batavia's 10-cent paper and plastic bag fee was approved by the city council in November and officially hit stores 5,000 square feet or larger July 1.

For comparison purposes the convenience store at the new Casey's gasoline station is 4,600 square feet; the downtown Walgreens is 14,500 square feet.

Following in the footsteps of Evanston, Woodstock, Edwardsville, Oak Park and Chicago, Batavia is one of a handful of Illinois communities to enact a plastic bag law. The St. Charles Natural Resources Commission has also been considering a fee.

Most recently, Evanston upgraded its 2014 ban of disposable single-use plastic bags for some businesses to a communitywide ban of all plastic bags beginning Aug. 1. A fee of 10 cents was also put in place for all other single-use, point-of-sale bags provided - including paper bags, which are required to be composed of at least 40% post-consumer recycled content.

While the ban is in place across the city, the fee only applies to non-restaurant chain retail establishments that exceed 10,000 square feet. Exceptions remain for pharmacy, newspaper and restaurant carry out bags.

The new ordinance is a component of the city's Climate Action and Resilience Plan, part of which aims to eliminate petroleum-based, single-use products by phasing out the use of single-use plastics by 2025.

One hundred billion plastic bags are used annually in America, but the majority end up in landfills, taking up to an estimated 1,000 years to decompose, according to the University of Chicago's Energy & Environment Lab. Paper bags also have significant environmental impacts, with paper production contributing to 20% of all toxic air releases in the U.S. in 2015.

In a study of Chicago's bag fee, the lab found the tax "significantly reduced disposable bag use and increased reusable bag use - a change that occurred within the first month of the tax. Importantly, these effects persisted a year after the tax implementation."

According to the study, 82% of consumers in Chicago used at least one disposable bag per trip before the tax went into effect. Over the next year, there was a 28 percentage point decrease in the use of any disposable bags.

A 2021 study by University of Illinois researchers Megan Styles and Junfeng Wang also found the practice has "successfully reduced plastic bag use and municipalities have not faced many issues with implementation" in five communities with plastic bag laws.

The researchers interviewed city officials and community leaders in Chicago, Evanston, Oak Park, Woodstock and Edwardsville to understand why the communities adopted the laws and their experiences with implementation.

• Daily Herald staff writer Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this story.

• Jenny Whidden is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

  Fruitful Yield Health Foods store assistant manager Jason LLaphan holds a reusable bag that the store offers to customers. They get a 10-cent credit on their purchase when they use reusable bags at 168 E. Golf Road in Schaumburg. John Starks/
  Fruitful Yield Health Foods cashier Brigitte Magnusson checks out a customer using plastic bags. The store offers customers a 10-cent credit on their purchase when they use reusable bags at 168 E. Golf Road in Schaumburg. John Starks/
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