State legislatures have considered a number of measures to reduce the prevalence of plastic bags at grocery stores and other businesses. Reducing bag use can mitigate harmful impacts to oceans, rivers, lakes, forests and the wildlife that inhabit them. It can also relieve pressure on landfills and waste management. While some states are focusing on implementing effective recycling programs, others are imposing bans or fees to discourage the use of plastic bags altogether.
Eight states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont—have banned single-use plastic bags.
In August 2014, California became the first state to enact legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at large retail stores. The bill also required a 10-cent minimum charge for recycled paper bags, reusable plastic bags, and compostable bags at certain locations. The ban was set to take effect on July 1, 2015, but a referendum forced the issue onto the ballot in the November 2016 election. Proposition 67 passed with 52 percent of the vote, meaning the plastic bag ban approved by the Legislature remains the law. A detailed summary of the law can be found below. Voters also rejected a second measure, Proposition 65, which proposed to create an environmental fund with proceeds from a 10-cent charge for alternative bags.
Hawaii has a de facto statewide ban as all of its most populous counties 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, with Honolulu becoming the last major county to approve the ban in 2015.
New York became the third state to ban plastic bags in 2019 with passage of Senate Bill 1508. The law, which goes into effect March 2020, will apply to most single-use plastic bags provided by
grocery stores and other retailers. Bags distributed at the meat/deli counter and bulk food area are exempt, as well as newspaper bags, trash bags, garment bags, bags provided by a pharmacy for prescription drugs, and restaurant takeout bags. The law allows individual counties the
option of placing a 5-cent fee on paper bags, with 2 cents going to local governments and 3 cents to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.
Five other states enacted legislation in 2019—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Oregon and Vermont. In addition to plastic bags, Vermont’s SB 113 also placed restrictions on single-use straws and polystrene containers.
In 2009, the District of Columbia enacted legislation requiring all businesses that sell food or alcohol to charge 5 cents for each carryout paper or plastic bag.