Over the last several years, a growing number of U.S. cities have passed municipal bans on single-use plastic shopping bags and imposed fees for the sale of other traditionally free bags provided in store checkouts. For example, Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon have banned the use of plastic shopping bags at grocery and retail stores, as well as food establishments.
This past May, Los Angeles became the largest U.S. city to ban plastic shopping bags. L.A.’s bag ban includes a 6-month phase-out of plastic bags for large retailers, a 1-year phase-out of plastic bags at small stores, and a 10-cent fee for paper bags at all stores one year after the law goes into effect. The L.A. bag ban affects about 7,500 grocery stores in the city.
Beyond green-minded West Coast cities, local bag-ban policies have also been cropping up in diverse locations across the country, including several communities in Texas over the last year. The border city of Brownsville, considered one of the poorest large cities in Texas, recently enacted a bag ban policy.
Taking a different approach, the District of Columbia is now in its second year of having a 5-cent tax on shopping bags. In D.C., District officials say that the 5-cent/bag tax has encouraged consumers to bring reusable bags on their shopping trips, and already made a positive impact by reducing the amount of garbage in the Anacostia River. The District uses bag tax proceeds to support its outreach programs, which include giving reusable bags away to residents, and to help clean-up the river.
However, while shopping bag ban and tax advocates argue these measures help the environment, by reducing waste, urban litter, and impacts to wildlife, waterways and ocean resources created by single-use plastic bags, critics say these measures are ineffective, have negative economic impacts, and also hurt the urban poor. You can listen to the arguments on both sides of the story, and make your own decision.
But in the meantime, until the current trends in local bag bans and taxes change, keep your reusable bags handy. And, keep an eye out for the latest fashions in reusable shopping bags and carry totes this holiday season – they make great stocking stuffers!