Throughout the United States, state regulation on plastic bags is increasing. Some states are focusing on implementing effective recycling programs, while others are imposing bans or fees to discourage the use of plastic bags altogether.
Recent bans and regulations may have you wondering if your business is going to be affected.
Those who will be most affected by bans and regulations are retail establishments that provide patrons with single-use, lightweight plastic bags to take merchandise home such as grocery stores, department stores, liquor stores, restaurants, convenience stores, and other retail stores.
Pro Tip: In some areas, the ban will cover single-use plastic bags beyond lightweight, t-shirt type bags such as produce bags, ice bags, fish bags, and garment bags.
Whether you are a restaurant owner who uses plastic bags as the preferred carry-out method for a to-go meal or a retail grocer who provides plastic shopping bags to customers at the end of a shopping experience, you will likely be forced to find alternative materials.
Understanding where bans are taking effect, why plastic bags are being banned, and what products are included under the bans will help you better navigate how your business is going to be affected so you can prepare.
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Which States Ban Plastic Bags?
As of writing this article, only California, New York, and Hawaii have statewide plastic bag bans, but several municipalities have mandatory recycling programs, taxes, and bans.
About 300 municipalities across the U.S. have regulations, bans, or fees on plastic bags.
For the most up to date information on plastic bag bans and an interactive map of regulations within each U.S. state, visit Bag the Ban.
It is important to understand that under state bans and city regulations, not all plastic bags are being banned.
Depending on your area, some plastic bags may not be prohibited under the ban.
In most cases, plastic bags which are banned are considered “single-use” or “lightweight” plastic bags. Single-use, lightweight plastic bags are generally considered to be plastic bags which are less than 2.25 mils or 57.17 microns thick.
Pro Tip: Some areas have implemented bans on bags up to 12 mils. 12 mil bags do not exist, meaning that these areas have implemented a complete ban, allowing no plastic bag alternatives to be used in place of single-use plastic bags.
Plastic bags which are constructed of thicker, stronger plastic may be considered reusable and are allowed in some areas.
If you are not sure if the bag your foodservice operation is currently using is affected by the ban or if you are not sure what the regulations in your area are, EBP Foodservice Specialists can help.
Can Plastic Bags Be Recycled?
Plastic grocery bags are typically made from high-density polyethylene (plastic number 2) or low-density polyethylene (plastic number 4). Both types of plastic are recyclable but plastic bags are typically not accepted in curbside recycling bins.
Plastic bags are not typically accepted because they are not easily separated when placed in curbside bins, and they can damage the equipment in recycling facilities.
How To Recycle Plastic Bags?
Plastic bags should be deposited at recycling facilities or special drop-off locations like grocery stores, where the bags will be collected and recycled separately.
Plastic bags must be clean and dry before recycling.
If Plastic Is Recyclable, Why Are Plastic Bags Being Banned?
Although plastics are recyclable, plastic bags are not typically accepted by curbside recyclers, causing them to end up as pollution on land and in water.
Even when disposed of properly, plastic bags can take up to 1000 years to decompose and break down, generating large amounts of garbage over long periods. Improperly discarded bags have polluted waterways, clogged sewers and been found in oceans, affecting the habitat of marine creatures.
Why Should We Ban Single-Use Plastic Bags?
A large issue is that plastic bags are not biodegradable.
Plastic bags break down into smaller pieces of plastic known as microplastics.
When plastic bags break down into micro-particles, the tiny pieces can be mistaken for food and is ingested by sea life. Microplastics can release toxic chemicals into our food and water systems and can be harmful to human and animal health.
Less landfill waste.
Americans use approximately 100 billion plastic bags a year, with the majority of them ending up in landfills. According to Waste Management, approximately only 1% of bags get returned for recycling each year.
Are There Reasons Not To Ban Plastic Bags?
It is a more sanitary option.
Typically, reusable bags are not being washed as often as they should be, allowing them to harbor bacteria and pose a health risk for consumers.
An assessment of the bacteria in grocery bags, led by University of Arizona and Loma Linda University researchers, found that almost all of the reusable bags randomly selected from customers entering a grocery store contained large amounts of bacteria. Nearly half contained coliform bacteria, and 12% contained E. Coli.
Switching to reusable bags doesn’t mean they are more environmentally friendly.
Whether you are switching to thicker plastic bags not covered under the ban or cloth bags, those bags aren’t reused enough to make up for the extra resources and carbon footprint involved in their creation.
A study by The Environment Agency found alternatives to plastic such as cotton bags would need to be used nearly 400 times in order to be below the global warming potential of HDPE single-use plastic bags that are reused a total of three times.
Type of Carrier
|HDPE Bag (Used 3 Times)|
|Non-woven PP Bag||33|
Boustead Consulting & Associates completed a life-cycle analysis of three popular types of bags and found that single-use plastic bags used less total energy and resources to manufacture.
|Impact Summary of Various Bag Types|
|(Carrying Capacity Equivalent to 1000 Paper Bags)|
(30% Recycled Fiber)
|Total Energy Usage (MJ)||2622||2070||763|
|Fossil Fuel Use (kg)||23.2||41.5||14.9|
|Municipal Solid Waste (kg)||33.9||19.2||7.0|
|Greenhouse Gas Emissions |
(CO2 Equiv. Tons)
|Fresh Water Usage (Gal)||1004||1017||58|
Higher costs to businesses.
Alternatives to single-use plastic bags will cost businesses more, potentially causing them to increase costs to consumers and losing sales as a result.
Although single-use plastic bag alternatives have their inefficiencies, the alternative options outweigh the long-term implications that single-use plastic bags have on the environment.
With the growing momentum of plastic bag bans, preparing to make the switch sooner rather than later will put your business at an advantage if your area becomes affected.
There are several effective alternative options to replace single-use plastic bags that are accepted under local bans and regulations.
If you’re located in the United States, Puerto Rico, or the Caribbean, Imperial Dade locations stock a wide variety of products to support your transition to plastic bag alternatives. Find the best alternatives to single-use plastic bags for your business.
Contact an Imperial Dade Specialist for a review of your business’s unique needs and to receive recommendations for the best plastic bag alternative for your business.