Fees, Taxes and Bans | Recycling and Reuse
States are continuing to consider strategies to reduce the number of plastic carry-out bags from grocery stores and other retail outlets. Some states are targeting paper bags as well. Regulating bags can mitigate harmful impacts to oceans, rivers, lakes and the wildlife that inhabit them. Reducing bag use can also relieve pressure on landfills and waste management.
Bans and Fees
In August 2014, California became the first state legislature to enact legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at large retail stores. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law on September 30. The ban will take effect on July 1, 2015.
In addition, there will be a 10 cent minimum charge for recycled paper bags, reusable plastic bags, and compostable bags at certain locations. A detailed summary of the law can be found below. In addition to California, a de facto statewide ban exists in Hawaii as all of the most populous counties in the state prohibit non-biodegradable plastic bags at checkout, as well as paper bags containing less than 40 percent recycled material. Bans in Kauai, Maui and Hawaii counties took effect between 2011 and 2013. Retailers in Honolulu County have until July 1, 2015, to make the change.
In 2009, the District of Columbia enacted a law to ban the distribution of disposable, non-recyclable plastic carry-out bags and set a fee of 5 cents for distribution of all other disposable bags.
In 2009, North Carolina banned plastic bags for the Outer Banks region, a chain of barrier islands off its coast. However, in 2011, the state passed legislation to temporarily suspend that ban due to a tornado that hit Dunn, North Carolina, which is the major distribution center for paper bags in the area. The ban has yet to be restored.
2014 Legislation Summary
As mentioned above, California lawmakers passed the first statewide plastic bag ban in the United States in 2014. Senate Bill 270 was signed by the governor on September 30, 2014. Legislation is pending in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico that would also ban single-use bags.
Four states – Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania— are considering a fee or tax on the distribution of bags which a shopper will have to pay, either directly or indirectly, with proposed fees ranging from 1 cent to 15 cents per bag. Depending on the state, the revenue would be used to improve recycling practices and encourage recycling, or help fund capital expenditures at state parks and historic sites. A portion of the revenue could also be returned to retail stores.
Recycling Programs and Requirements
States have continued to propose and enact legislation relating to labeling, recycling, and reusing plastic bags. In 2010, California passed legislation that requires manufacturers of compostable plastic bags to ensure that the bag is readily and easily identifiable from other bags. That same year, Delaware enacted an At-Store Recycling Program. The legislation encourages the use of reusable bags, requires stores to establish an at-store recycling program that provides an opportunity for customers of the store to return clean plastic bags, requires that plastic carry-out bags display a recycling message and provides fines and penalties for noncompliance. Illinois passed similar legislation, the Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act, in 2012, but it was vetoed by the Governor.
Energy and Environment Legislation Tracking Database
Enacted Plastic and Paper Bag Legislation
Enacted Plastic Bag State Legislation Summaries
Statewide Ban on Single-Use Carryout Bags (2014 CA S 270)
Prohibits certain large stores, as of July 1, 2015, from providing a single-use plastic carryout bag to a customer, with specified exceptions. Prohibits a store from selling or distributing a recycled paper bag, reusable plastic bag or compostable bag at the point of sale unless the store makes that bag available for purchase for at least $0.10 and certain conditions are met. The ban does not apply to handle-less plastic bags used to protect meat and produce from damaging or contaminating other purchased items. After July 1, 2016, these prohibitions and requirements will take effect for smaller stores such as convenience food stores. Revenue will be retained by the store to offset costs associated with providing recycled or reusable bags and complying with other provisions of the law. Persons or entities that violate the law may be subject to civil penalties imposed by the city, county or state of California.
Requires reusable grocery bags sold to customers at the point of sale to be made by a certified producer and to meet certain criteria with regard to the bag’s durability, material, labeling and heavy metal content. In addition to these requirements, a reusable bag made from plastic film, as opposed to other natural or synthetic fibers, must meet certain benchmarks for recycled material content by 2016 and 2020. Beginning July 1, 2015, bags made from plastic film may not be sold or distributed unless certified by a third party entity. Applications for certification must include specified information that verifies, among other things, the incorporation of clean postconsumer recycled material.
Declares that it occupies the whole field of regulation of reusable grocery bags, single-use carryout bags, and recycled paper bags and prohibits a local public agency from enforcing or implementing an ordinance, resolution, regulation, or rule adopted on or after September 1, 2014, relating to those bags, against a store unless expressly authorized. Allows a local public agency that has adopted such an ordinance prior to September 1, 2014, to continue to enforce and implement that ordinance or other type of regulation, but preempts any amendments other than to increase the bag charge at covered stores.
A sum of $2,000,000 is appropriated from the Recycling Market Development Revolving Loan Subaccount to the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery to provide loans for the creation and retention of jobs and economic activity in California for the manufacture and recycling of plastic reusable grocery bags that use recycled content. (09/30/2014 - Enacted)
Compostable or Marine Degradable Plastic Bags (2010 CA S 228)
Requires a manufacturer of a compostable plastic bag to ensure that the bag is readily and easily identifiable from other bags. Prohibits a compostable plastic bag sold in the state from displaying a chasing arrow resin identification code or recycling type of symbol in any form. Requires a manufacturer to comply with these requirements only to the extent that labeling requirements do not conflict with federal requirements. (09/28/2010 - Enacted)
Recycling: Plastic Products (2012 CA S 567)
Prohibits the sale of a plastic product labeled as compostable, home compostable, or marine degradable unless it meets standard specifications or a specified standard, or the plastic product is labeled with a qualified claim and the plastic product meets that standard. Prohibits the sale of a plastic product that is labeled as biodegradable, degradable, decomposable, or as otherwise specified. Provides for a civil penalty for a violation. Provides for the continuation of plastic bag labeling provisions. (10/08/2011 - Enacted)
At-Store Recycling Program (2006 CA A 2449)
Retail stores must adopt an at-store recycling program. Plastic bags used at retailers must have clearly printed “Please Return to a Participating Store for Recycling” on the bag. Retailers must also make reusable bags available for purchase by the customer, in lieu of plastic bags. (Repealed January 1, 2020)
At Store Recycling Program (2009 DE H 15; Amended by 2014 DE H 198)
Encourages the use of reusable bags by consumers and retailers, requires a store to establish an at-store recycling program that provides an opportunity for a customer of the store to return clean plastic bags, requires all plastic carryout bags to display a recycling message, requires stores to maintain records of collection and recycling of plastic bags, prohibits imposition of a plastic bag fee upon a compliant store, provides for fines and penalties. (08/17/2009 - Enacted)
Recycling Program (2012 DE SCR 24)
Requests a report and suggestions for improvement on the at-store recycling program of plastic carryout bags for the purpose of improving the program and bettering the environment. (06/29/2011 - Enacted)
District of Columbia
Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act (2010 DC B 150)
Protects the aquatic and environmental assets of the District of Columbia, to ban the use of disposable non-recyclable plastic carryout bags, to establish a fee on all other disposable carryout bags provided by grocery stores, drug stores, liquor stores, restaurants, and food vendors, to give the Mayor the authority to implement rules and procedures to collect the fee, to establish a non-lapsing recurring Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund. (09/23/2009 - Enacted)
Checkout Bags (2010 ME S 131)
Convenes a work group, through a partnership with state agencies and other appropriate entities, to work together towards a viable solution to the checkout bag issue to achieve environmental benefits, maintain financial viability for manufacturers and retailers and avoid cost impacts for consumers, provides for a report to the legislature. (05/19/2009 - Enacted)
Recycling Plastic Bags (1991 ME LD 1166)
Retailers may only provide customers with plastic bags if there is a receptacle to collect used plastic bags with twenty feet of the entrance and all the plastic bags collected are then recycled.
Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act (2008 NY A 11725)
Retailers of stores are to establish in-store recycling programs that provide an opportunity for the customer to return clean plastic carryout bags to be recycled. The plastic carryout bags provided by the store must have printed on them “Please return to a Participating Store for Recycling.”
Plastic Bag Use (2010 NC S 1018)
Reduces plastic and non-recycled paper bag use on North Carolina's outer banks (a sea turtle nesting area). A retailer subject to G.S. 130A-309.102 shall display a sign in a location viewable by customers containing the following notice: "[county name] County discourages the use of single-use plastic and paper bags to protect our environment from excess litter and greenhouse gases. We would appreciate our customers using reusable bags, but if you are not able to, a 100% recycled paper bag will be furnished for your use." Please see additional NC bills for identical language regarding the use of plastic bags and fines. (06/24/2009 - Enacted)
Plastic Bag Management (2011 NC S 146)
Suspends the ban on plastic bags in certain coastal areas due to a disruption in the supply of paper bags because of the severe tornados. The major distribution center for paper bags used by retailers in the areas subject to the ban was located in Dunn, NC, but was severely damaged and rendered unusable by the tornados of April 16, 2011. The General Assembly finds that the suspension of the requirement until the supply chain for paper bags is restored is in the public interest. This act becomes effective April 16, 2011. (04/20/2011 - Enacted)
**Suspends the above bill.
Promotion of Paper Bag Usage (2008 RI S 2565)
To decrease use of plastic bags, this legislation promotes the use of paper bags by retailers. Retail establishments must offer the use of a paper bag to the consumer. Every retail establishment that provides customers with plastic bags must provide conveniently located receptacles where customers can return their clean and dry plastic bags to be recycled. Failure to comply with these laws is punishable with fines up to $500.
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