Plastic Shopping Bags Going the Way of Lead Paint? Many Say YES

Last November, we reported on the growing trend in U.S. cities to pass bans on single-use plastic shopping bags and impose fees on the sale of other traditionally free bags provided in store checkouts. In 2013, it appears that the public desire to ban plastic shopping bags is gaining momentum, with officials now calling for a “coast-to-coast ban” on plastic shopping bags.

The nation’s three largest cities, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, have all pursued shopping bag bans with varying levels of success. In June, the city of Los Angeles expanded its shopping bag ban from unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County to large supermarkets, drug stores, and convenience stores throughout the city.  Plastic bags will be banned in affected stores beginning in January 2014, and a charge of 10¢ per bag required for the use of paper bags provided at store checkouts.

The proposed legislation in Chicago takes a different approach. Not only would the use of plastic shopping bags be banned, but retailers would be required to sell reusable bags and offer shoppers bags made of paper or other biodegradable material. However, the current proposal would not require retailers to charge a fee for the biodegradable bags, so those retailers who chose to charge such a fee would be at a competitive disadvantage. Under the New York legislation, single-use bags would not be banned outright, but retailers would be required to charge 10¢ for each plastic or paper bag a shopper uses at checkout. Although neither of these cities has passed legislation yet, both bills have significant support and will likely continue to be negotiated in the future.

Smaller cities, such as Brookline, Massachusetts, are also following the trend of banning single-use shopping bags. Brookline banned supermarkets (with more than $1 million in gross sales during the previous tax year) and certain other retailers from providing shoppers with disposable plastic shopping bags last November, with the new law becoming effective in December 2013.

The push to ban or charge fees to use single-use shopping bags is also gaining traction at the state and federal level. In 2013, California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington all considered bans on plastic bags, and Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine and Vermont are considering placing fees or a tax on single-use shopping bags. At the national level, U.S. Representative Jim Moran (D., Va.) proposed the Trash Reduction Act of 2013 this past May. If passed, this bill would require a 5¢ fee to be charged for all disposable bags (paper or plastic) provided by all retailers, not just supermarkets and food stores, to shoppers at store checkouts.

If this current legislative push continues, plastic shopping bags may soon achieve the same status as lead paint or McDonald’s polystyrene foam sandwich containers – they will become a product of our past.

Related topics: Compliance, Retail