Bag Ban Laws & Ordinances - How & Why They Work
Why do we have all these new laws anyway? Why are they so confusing? What do you need to know?

There are common sense answers to these questions. Your challenge is to find the best specifications that will unify your bag program. If a government entity, you want laws that are compatible with others. If you are a distributor or retailer, you want to unify your purchases in order to minimize inventory and reduce costs.

Let's start with a little history, then get deeper into the many conflicting laws.

Single-use bags create waste
This is one of two primary reasons bag ban laws are being passed worldwide. It goes without saying that the less we can put in a landfill, the better off we are. This applies to all types of bags, not plastic.

Paper and compostable bags (D6400) also contribute to landfill waste. Very few industrial composting facilities in the U.S. accept them, and are therefore thrown in the landfill trash. For example a recent survey showed there was only one in the state of California (Watsonville) that composted the bags.
landfill trash

Single-use plastic bags contribute to litter, endanger wildlife
This is the second primary reason bag ban laws are passed. We know this because we have read hundreds of ordinances. It was clearly the top driving force behind the strict California state law that affects almost 40 million people.

The state was mandated to eliminate thin plastic bag litter and marine life contamination. The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) supported the findings, and in a statewide vote in November 2016, the state's populace agreed!
Marine life death

Reusable bags reduce waste
Common sense tells us that reusable bags reduce landfill waste and litter. They are here to stay and over time significantly reduce our reliance on gas and oil products. Most inexpensive reusable bags can be recycled.
Reusable bags prevail

Reusable bags must meet specifications
Most U.S. bag bans require "durable reusable bags specifically made for several reuses". The stricter, more commonly acceptable laws require them to have specific standards such as:

  • Minimum capacity: Some laws have a 12 liter minimum, but most have a 15 liter minimum (there are two measurement systems - dry and wet - so be careful).
  • Minimum gauge (thickness): 1.5 mil up to 4.5 mils. The most common is 2.25 mils, however 3.0 and 4.0 mils is also prevalent. Again, be careful. Don't get trapped by supplying a 3 mil bag to a city whose ordinance requires "over 3 mils".
  • Carry strength: Some laws require the ability to carry 16 pounds, others 22 pounds, and yet others have no strength requirements.
  • Durability: Some ordinances require bags to carry as much as 22 pounds a distance of 175', 125 times (4.14 miles). It is the equivalent of 125 shopping trips to the supermarket. It is about the same for city dwellers in a walking/shopping city, such as New York.
  • Non-toxicity: Most bag bans require the materials to be non-toxic, some require verification. California, for example, also requires Prop 92 compliance.
  • Legal notices: Many of the bag ban laws require reusable bags to be marked with notices specifying compliance. Some laws require bags to be made with some post-consumer waste (PCR) and are required to be marked accordingly.
Durable bags
Charging for bags changes behavior
The theory behind a minimum charge for bags is to force consumers into a new habit. Once they realize they have to pay for bags, they will indeed want to reuse them. After all it is for a good cause, which most citizens become to understand.

Charging for bags also helps businesses buy into the new laws, where they can receive a small amount of profit. It turns their #1 expense item (throwaway single-use bags) into a profit center. Think about this: In the long-run this ultimately reduces consumer pricing in a competitive business environment.

Most ordinances charge $.10 (some as high as $.25 and as low as $.05) for any bag provided by the retailer: reusable, paper,or compostable. Once again, reusable bags are the bags of choice, as they effectively eliminate a retailer's bag expense and is the lowest cost alternative for consumers!

Beware, some municipalities take the minimum charge as a tax instead of allowing the retailer to accept it. This can impact how bags are sold and increases retailer costs with a new accounting burden.
10 cents adds up into big savings

Legal notices and certifications
While many cities and municipalities do not require legal notices on their bags, most do - of one sort or another. Most suppliers of reusable, paper and compostable bags do this.

Your challenge, should you be a retailer with multiple stores in bag ban areas with conflicting laws, is to unify these markings into a "one size fits all". Otherwise, costs can skyrocket if multiple stores require different specifications and markings!

Last, if certification is required in your region's laws, have it done only by an ISO 9000 certified laboratory.

Legal marking on bags

We Take Away the Confusion

Whether you are a city, state, or municipal government, bag manufacturer, distributor, or retailer, we take away the guesswork. We provide you with the laws and standards to meet all 260+ bag ban laws nationwide. Retailers can consolidate and unify their inventories with the correct legal notices and certifications.

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