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Study Shows Chicago Plastic Bag Usage Has Dropped Since Bag Tax

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It appears the city of Chicago's new tax on disposable bags is working.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Monday that Chicagoans significantly reduced the average number of disposable bags used per shopping trip. WBBM's Jim Gudas reports.

In the first month after the city placed the "Checkout Bag Tax," a seven-cent tax on each disposable bag used by customers at stores, a study done for the city by ideas42, the University of Chicago and New York University finds disposable bag usage dropped 42 percent.

"I am glad so many Chicagoans are choosing to forgo paper or plastic bags at checkout, and encourage others to help Chicago further reduce disposable bag use in the city," said Mayor Emanuel, in a statement. "By decreasing our paper and plastic bag use, Chicago is making important progress in reducing our carbon footprint as well as reducing street litter and improving recycling operations."

The city of Chicago performed the study to see its effect on consumers.

"Once we implemented the tax, we wanted to study it, we wanted to make sure it actually worked," said Molly Poppe with the City's budget office.

The study tracked bag use of customers at several large grocery chains in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs before and after the tax was implemented to compare consumer experience and determine the possible environmental impact.

The study found before the tax went into effect on Feb. 1, shoppers averaged a little more than 2 disposable bags per store visit.After the tax, it dropped to a little over one bag per trip.

The number of Chicagoans who brought a reusable tote to the grocery store also rose 20 percent.

"It is great news that disposable bag use has declined since the Checkout Bag Tax went into effect," said Jen Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council, in a statement. "We've all seen where disposable bags often end up - wrapped around trees and bushes, in Lake Michigan or the Chicago River, blowing around on windy days. Hopefully the reduction we've seen so far is a first step in getting all of these bags out of our environment."

The city plans to continue to study consumer behavior related to disposable bags used over multiple years and "anticipates similar ongoing reduction in paper and plastic use as more consumers build in the habit of going bagless or bringing their own reusable bag."

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