In this article, we are going to discuss the 10 states that banned plastic bags. You can skip our detailed analysis of the statistics of plastic pollution, steps taken by the international community to counter it, companies working to promote bioplastics and problems faced by the U.S. states that banned plastic bags and go directly to 5 States that Banned Plastic Bags.
Plastic bags were born in the post-World War 2 explosion of manufactured plastic household goods and became popular in the 70’s. By the end of 1980’s, grocery stores across the U.S. had switched from paper to plastic and these single-use plastic bags have grown rapidly since then.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, single-use plastic bags are statistically one of the leading causes of pollution in the world. A plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to decompose and as it breaks down, it makes its way into our water systems, where fish and other marine life consume it, contaminating our food sources with microplastics. Plastic bags are also very difficult to recycle and around 93 billion plastic bags don’t get recycled each year. In 2018, less than 9% of all used plastic bags were recycled. These bags cause a tremendous amount of pollution also during their synthesis, and a total of 300 million tons of toxic plastic waste is produced every year just in the manufacturing of plastic bags.
To combat this menace, at least 127 countries have introduced some form of legislation to regulate plastic bags, as of July 2018, according to a report by the UN Environment Programme. These policies range from outright bans, such as in Marshall Islands, to progressive phase-outs, like in Uzbekistan and Moldova, to laws in Romania and Vietnam that incentivize the use of reusable bags. Even an Al-Qaeda-backed terrorist group joined in banning plastic bags in 2018 as ‘a serious threat to the well-being of humans and animals alike’.
The European Union has also taken steps to curb the use of plastic bags and other plastic items found most commonly at European beaches. The European Parliament passed a law in 2019, according to which single-use plastic cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, cotton buds and polystyrene food containers would be banned by 2021. Member states would also have to achieve a 90% collection target for plastic bottles by 2029 and these bottles would have to contain at least 25% of recycled content by 2025 and 30% by 2030.
However, the World Resources Institute has reported that several loopholes exist in the worldwide implementation of laws regulating single-use plastic bags. Most countries fail to regulate plastic throughout its entire life-cycle, for example, China bans the import of plastic bags and mandates that retailers charge consumers for them, but does not explicitly restrict their production and exports. Some countries prefer to impose partial bans instead of full bans. Partial bans may include requirements on bags’ thickness and composition. Also, virtually no country restricts plastic bag manufacturing itself, with the exception of Cape Verde, where only biodegradable and compost plastic bags are allowed to be manufactured.
A solution to this problem could also be the use of bioplastics, which are plastic materials produced from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetables fats and oils, recycled food waste etc. Several companies have made huge progress in the bioplastic industry and one of them is Danimer Scientific, Inc. (NYSE:DNMR). The company produces bio-based plastics using microorganisms and so Danimer Scientific, Inc. (NYSE:DNMR) owns 150 patents in nearly 20 countries. The Nodax plastic produced by Danimer Scientific, Inc. (NYSE:DNMR) is 100% renewable and biodegradable.
Another notable player in this industry is the Eastman Chemical Company (NYSE:EMN). Once a subsidiary of the Eastman Kodak Company (NYSE:KODK), today Eastman Chemical Company (NYSE:EMN) is an independent company making significant progress in the bioplastic and recycling industry. The bioplastics made by Eastman Chemical Company (NYSE:EMN) have made it into mobile cases, eye-wear, headphones, textiles and power tools etc.
Another company making progress in reducing plastic waste is The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO), which in fact, is also one of the worst plastic polluters in the world. The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) pumps out 200,000 bottles a minute, an equivalent of 3 million tons of plastic packaging every year. To help control this situation, The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) launched its World Without Waste initiative in 2018, which centers around 3 primary goals, making 100% of their packaging recyclable and using more recyclable material by 2030, collecting and recycling a bottle or can for each one they sell by 2030 and lastly, to partner up with other organizations to support a healthy, debris-free environment. If you want to read more about other companies making an impact by curbing pollution around the world, please refer to our articles 20 Most Important Companies in the World and 10 Biggest Issues in the World and the Companies Working on Solving Them.
The global bioplastics market size was estimated at $11.61 billion in 2022 and is expected to expand at a CAGR of 18.8% from 2023 to 2030, according to Grand View Research.
A recent study by Rebecca Taylor, an economist at the University of Sydney, has revealed that the state of California’s bag ban led to a moderate increase in paper bag usage and pushed other customers to buy thicker plastic bags. Due to the increased weight of these thicker bags, the study reported that 28.5% of plastic reduced due to the bag ban was offset by shifting consumption to other bags.
State legislations regarding bag bans have often defined prohibited bags by their thickness or applied measurements requiring that they carry a certain weight a certain distance. So what has happened is that bag makers have flooded markets with thicker plastic bags, often imported from China. This is the reason why the plastic-ban law in Vermont has opted for requiring stitched handles. Because of the cost of stitched handles, it effectively ensures that carryout bags will be made from cloth or reusable polypropylene, encouraging reuse.
The United States of America is one of the largest generators of plastic packaging waste in the world. Americans use an estimated 100 billion plastic bags per year, which require 12 million barrels of fuel to manufacture. This means that the annual per capita consumption of plastic bags in the country is around 365 per year, or one plastic bag per person daily. In comparison, Denmark, which introduced the first bag-tax in the world in 1993, has a per capita consumption of four plastic bags per year.
Several states in the U.S. have introduced legislation that banned single-use plastic bags. While some states are focusing on implementing effective recycling programs, others are imposing bans or fees to discourage the use of plastic bags altogether. In addition, nearly 100 towns, cities and counties across the U.S. have also enacted laws at the local level to curb the use of single-use plastic bags.
To collect data for this article, we have referred to the National Conference for State Legislatures or the respective state websites.
Here is the list of the states that have banned plastic bags:
10. New York
The state of New York, where an estimated 23 billion plastic bags were used each year, introduced a new Bag Waste Reduction Law, which took effect on the 1st of March 2020. According to the law, all plastic carryout bags (except bags that are exempt) were banned from distribution by anyone required to collect New York State sales tax. For sales that are tax exempt, plastic carryout bags are still not allowed to be distributed by anyone required to collect the state sales tax.
Cities and counties have also been involved. In order to promote reusable bags, cities and counties have been authorized to adopt a 5-cent paper carryout reduction fee, with 2 cents going to local governments and 3 cents going to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. Stores covered under the act are still required to collect plastic bags and other film plastics from consumers for recycling.
Some plastic bags are exempt under the law, such as bags used by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs and produce bags for bulk items, such as fruits and vegetables. New York became the third state that banned plastic bags in the country.
In August 2019, the state of Connecticut enacted a law to collect a 10-cent fee on single-use plastic bags. Despite the three-month suspension on the fee, during the Covid-19 pandemic, a significant change was seen in consumer behavior regarding the use of plastic bags.
According to the president of the Connecticut Food Association, over 500 million bags had been eliminated in traditional retail grocery stores since the law’s inception. Before the fee, only 1 in 10 shoppers brought their own bag to the store, which changed to 8 out of 10, after the law was implemented. In 2020, 44.3 million bags were still sold at checkout and at 10 cents a piece, which cost the consumers $4.43 million, generating decent revenue. Starting July 1st 2021, the use of single-use plastic bags was banned altogether in Connecticut.
Delaware state enacted a law in 2009 (amended in 2014) encouraging the use of reusable bags by consumers and retailers. It required a store to establish an at-store recycling program that provided an opportunity for customers to return plastic bags and required all carryout bags to display a recycling message.
In 2019, the state assembly enacted a law banning plastic carryout bags altogether, to help reduce beach and roadside litter and increase recycling efforts. There were a few exceptions to the ban, including the plastic bags used within grocery stores to cover meat or to carry bulk items, such as fruits and vegetables.
The state assembly of Maine enacted a law as early as 1991, stating that retailers may only provide plastic bags to customers if there is a receptacle to collect used plastic bags within 20 feet of the entrance and all plastic bags collected are then recycled.
In 2019, another law was introduced that banned retailers from providing single-use carryout bags to their customers altogether, with few exemptions for certain types and uses of plastic and paper bags.
According to the ban, grocery stores, box stores and large retailers that provide carryout bags to their customers must collect a 5-cent fee for each bag, with the exception of reusable bags not made of plastic or cloth bags with stitched handles. The law was implemented on July 1st 2021 and so Maine became the 4th state in the country that banned plastic bags in America.
Vermont enacted a law to adopt the most comprehensive plastics ban in the U.S. The new law, which took effect in July 2020, prohibited retailers and restaurants from providing customers with not only single-use carryout bags, but also plastic straws, drink stirrers and polystyrene food packaging.
The bag ban applies only to bags sold at point-of-sales and not to bags sold as household trash bags or bags used in grocery stores to carry bulk items. Retailers and restaurants are also required to collect a 10-cent fee for paper bags, but small paper bags are exempt from this charge.
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Disclosure: None. 10 States that Banned Plastic Bags is originally published on Insider Monkey.