FAQ: Living Without Single-Use Plastic Bags Under SB270


Under Senate Bill 270, all Californians will no longer receive single-use plastic bags at grocery, drug, and convenience stores.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about SB270:

What stores are covered under SB 270, and when does this happen?

SB 270 covers most grocery, pharmacy, liquor and convenience stores in California.  See definition of "store" in section 42280 (g) here.  Some ordinances that were passed prior to SB270 include retail and/or restaurants as well, so check your city or county's ordinance language here.  

The State Constitution provides that propositions take effect the day after the election, so both stores and consumers should prepare to comply immediately.  Additionally, stores have always been paying for these bags, and it has always been their prerogative to pass those costs on to consumers with or without SB270 in place.

Why is there a 10 cent charge for paper and reusable bags?

Remember that single-use plastic grocery bags were never really free. Grocers rolled the cost they paid per plastic bag into the price of groceries, meaning that even people who bring their own bags to the store were supplementing the cost of other shoppers' plastic bags.  

The 10 cent charge:

  • Offsets the greater cost of paper and reusable bags for the grocers/retailers.
  • Ensures that customers who bring their own bags don't have to supplement the cost of other shoppers' bags anymore.
  • Encourages the use of reusable bags.

Is the 10 cent charge on paper and reusable bags a tax?  

No. You can avoid the charge completely by refusing to buy any bags offered by the stores.  Additionally, WIC/SNAP customers are exempt from paying the charge.

Is there sales tax on these bag charges?

According to the California Board of Equalization the charge is not taxable since it is not imposed by the grocer/retailer, but you should call them at 1-800-400-7115 to be sure.

How will I carry my groceries home? I need those "free" bags.

We encourage you to bring your own bags, backpacks, etc. to avoid having to buy a bag at the store. If you forget, you can choose to go without a bag, or purchase a paper or reusable bag in store.  The plastic grocery bag was first introduced in stores in the early 1970s. We survived without them before, and for the sake of both our environment and our economy, we can do so again.

What if I forget my reusable bags?

Getting used to new habits takes a little time and practice. Many stores have already put up reminder signs to help customers get used to bringing in their own bags. Keep your reusable bags in the car, in your purse, or you can invest in a small, collapsible bag that attaches to your keychain for shopping trips. After you take out your groceries, hang your grocery bags by the door or your keys so you remember to take them back out to the car with you. And if you forget your reusable bags in the car while shopping, put your groceries in your cart and take them to your car where you can bag them there. 

Aren’t reusable bags worse for the environment?

Assumptions made in various studies comparing plastic, paper, and reusable bags are misleading, or are written in geographical locations that make them inapplicable to California's law.  And reusable bags made from 40% recycled polyethylene have a lower footprint than ANY single-use bag after as few as 8 uses.  By law they are mandated to be able to be used 125 times. They use 50% less energy, have 40% less impact on GHG emissions and solid waste resources, and use 30% less water.

Why charge for paper bags? Aren't they better than plastic?

Even though paper is made from a renewable resource and is recycled at a higher rate, these single-use bags still have an environmental impact of their own. The charge serves an environmental and economic purpose. The charge reduces single-use paper bag waste and associated environmental impacts. In Portland, OR, a plastic bag ban with no charge on paper resulted in a 491% increase in paper bag use and nearly $5 million increase in the cost of bags. Meanwhile, a plastic bag ban with a 10 cent charge on paper reduced paper bag use by 30% in the first year of LA County's bag ban. The charge also offsets the stores' costs of distributing paper bags, which can be two or more times as expensive as plastic bags. LA County large stores spend an average of $11,600 a year on paper bags, and receive roughly $9,000 in bag revenue to help offset this cost and keep prices low. 

How will I pick up my pet’s waste, throw away dirty diapers, or line my small trash cans now?

Look for creative reuses for the plastic bags you will likely still have around, including produce and empty bread or newspaper bags.  You can also keep an unlined trash bin that you just rinse out periodically, especially if you compost your food waste separately. Or, use a paper liner like some hotel chains do; newspaper works great or you can use paper bags that can be emptied and reused over and over again.

Will I have to spend more on trash bags?

A socioeconomic impact study conducted by LA County concluded that the average resident would only spend an additional $5.72 to purchase bags. As previously noted, produce bags, as well as any other bags you may receive from stores that are not covered under the ban, may be repurposed once more. 

What about recycling; isn’t that a better solution?

Reduction is best, and reuse second best.  According to a state agency report, only 3% of plastic bags were recycled in 2009. The market for recycled plastic bags is small, and there appears to be few major companies with a demand for used plastic bags. A 2012 American Chemistry Council report revealed that more than half (59%) of the recovered plastic bags and film in the US was exported to China.

Will reusable bags make me sick?

There are no credible studies making a connection between reusable bags and foodborne illness. Commonly-quoted studies, funded by the plastics industry, contain numerous flaws. One study simply shows that the same array of everyday bacteria found on our hands, clothes, and around our homes, can also be found on reusable bags. Another study never makes the connection between people who use reusable bags and people who become ill with foodborne illness. Using common sense, washing your hands, and cleaning your bags when they get dirty, virtually eliminates any risk of illness.  See tips for the use and care of reusable shopping bags here.

Do bag bans really work?

One year after LA County implemented its bag ban with a small charge on paper bags, there was a 100% reduction in the distribution of single-use plastic bags in covered stores, along with a capping of paper bag use. In San Jose, they’ve seen a 76% reduction in creek and river litter, a 59% drop in park and roadside plastic bag litter, and a 69% reduction in plastic bag litter in storm drains. Alameda County is also reporting similar successful reductions almost two years after its ban went into effect. The results speak for themselves.

Is there a law that requires me to put alcoholic beverages into carryout bags?

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control released an Industry Advisory on this. There is no California law that mandates a retailer to provide a bag for purchased alcoholic beverages.  

What should stores to with the plastic bags they have left?

Many stores in the state have already been phasing out plastic bags ahead of the election.  Many stores can arrange with their suppliers to return unused inventory.  If that's not an option, stores can recycle unused plastic bags.  There are at least two opportunities in California:

For educational/outreach materials:

Compliant Bags:

What should I do if a store is not complying?

First we recommend approaching the store in case they don't know about this law.  If that doesn't resolve the issue, call your local Public Works or Environmental Services Department to let them know.  Here is a template letter to send to stores that can help this effort.