What to know about single-use bag bans

When you go shopping, whether at the grocery store or the mall, do you bring a shopping bag with you? If you don’t, can you buy one at the store, or are you completely out of luck? In hundreds of US cities, this is the new reality. In efforts to reduce single-use plastic use, many cities have opted to ban or tax the use of these bags. For many, gone are the days of using dozens of plastic bags each time you go for a trip to the grocery store. Read on to learn more about this sustainable movement that is making its way across the country.


How did this all start?

California was the first state to start the discussion around the bag ban. Back in 2015, California enacted legislation to ban the use of single-use plastic bags statewide (1). Even if someone wanted to use a paper bag or otherwise recycled bag, the bag was supposed to cost at least 10 cents, likely to encourage people to bring their own bags when they went shopping.


Some states saw pause to its efforts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With businesses already struggling, forcing stores to ban or charge for single-use bags could be another factor deterring possible customers. So, even in states that were trying to get a statewide ban, there was a struggle to get the ban to be accepted widely.


What are the effects of this ban?

While many would assume that a ban or tax of single-use plastics would be good for the environment, that is not necessarily the case. Organizations like Bag the Ban (2) are speaking out trying to, as the name states, bag the ban. Rather than helping the environment and your community, the organization believes the ban is actually having negative impacts. One of the reasons they are looking to get rid of the ban on single-use plastic bags is because these bags are actually the best for the environment. Plastic bags are 100% recyclable, and many stores and cities have programs to help ensure bags are reused and recycled. Have you ever used a plastic bag to pick up dog waste, or to keep some dirty shoes separate from your clothes in a suitcase? It’s more than likely that you’ve used single-use plastics more than once before throwing them away. Maybe you even have a stash in your house of them for whenever a potential need arises.


Reusable bags are a great idea in theory, but only if you already own the tote. You may have had a tote for years that you use as a purse on some occasions and a grocery bag on others. However, when people buy a reusable bag from the grocery store, that’s not typically the case. These bags are usually only used when you go to the grocery store, and that is, if you remember to bring your bags inside when you go shopping. If you have a reusable bag like this, then it needs to be used at least 131 times to be seen as a better choice for the environment than a plastic bag (3). This is due to the carbon emissions associated with creating these bags in the first place, as well as the materials needed to make them.


So, what should I do if there is a ban in my city?

If there is a ban in your city, and you have single-use plastic bags at home, or you have reusable bags, be sure to bring those to the store. However, it’s not the end of the world if you forget to bring a bag (as long as you can financially afford this cost, and your city is enforcing a tax rather than a ban). If you can, you can support the local economy by buying these bags. Then, just make sure to reuse your purchased plastic bag a few times before you dispose of it.

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