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Shopping Bag Restrictions

The Tacoma City Council passed the Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB) ordinance on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. The law regulates the use of carryout bags and will go into effect in one year. The main elements of the law are:

  • Thin plastic carryout bags will no longer be distributed at any Tacoma retail establishments.
  • Retail establishments will collect a minimum pass-through charge of 5 cents for each recycled paper or reusable carryout bag requested by customers.
  • Those with benefits cards will not have to pay the pass-through charge.

Bags other than carryout bags, such as produce bags, dry cleaning bags and newspaper bags, will continue to be available at no charge. The law follows the same carryout bag restriction model that twelve other communities in Washington State have implemented.


During the one year implementation period City staff will distribute free reusable bags, conduct focused engagement in low-income communities, and provide educational resources to businesses. Staff will also conduct a study of the impacts of the law after implementation. Annually, retailers will be asked to report to the City on the number of recycled paper carryout bags distributed to help determine effectiveness of the law.


View the BYOB ordinance and the one year implementation plans.


Check this webpage often for updates including BYOB educational resources.



Recent Developments

July 12, 2016

City Council passed the Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB) ordinance during Council meeting. The law regulates the use of carryout bags and will go into effect in one year. Council also discussed a substitute ordinance which did not pass.


June 28, 2016

City Council heard the first reading of the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance during Council meeting. Jim Parvey presented this ordinance and gave background information as well as implementation plans.


May 10, 2016

Office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability staff presented the draft Bring Your Own Bag ordinance and implementation plans to City Council during study session.


April 27, 2016

Office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability staff presented the draft Bring Your Own Bag ordinance and implementation plans to City Council's Infrastructure, Planning and Sustainability Committee.


March 29, 2016

The City of Tacoma hosted the Disposable Shopping Bags Public Forum at the Main Branch of the Tacoma Public Library to gather feedback on the proposed shopping bag ordinance and implementation plans. About 60 members of the community attended the forum, and written and oral comments were broad in nature with equal numbers in favor and opposition.


February 24, 2016

Office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability staff presented the results of the public and business surveys to City Council's Infrastructure, Planning and Sustainability Committee (IPS). This presentation included the Sustainable Tacoma Commission recommendation to adopt an ordinance following the "Bellingham Model."


IPS asked staff to draft an ordinance following the Bellingham Model and continue to engage the public for feedback. Bellingham's ordinance bans disposable plastic shopping bags and charges a fee for paper shopping bags.


November 23, 2015 - January 15, 2016

Public and business surveys were available online. The public survey received 2,188 responses; the business survey received 84 responses. View the results of the public and business surveys.



Why restrict disposable shopping bags?

An estimated two billion disposable plastic shopping bags are used in Washington State each year and most end up in the landfill or as litter, according to a study by the Environment Washington Research & Policy Center. Though plastic shopping bags make up only a fraction of Tacoma’s waste stream (less than 0.5% by weight) these single-use items can create a nuisance in the form of litter on streets and in parks and can cause harm to marine wildlife.

By their nature, plastic bags do not biodegrade, but rather break down into smaller and smaller pieces to become micro-plastics (Environment Washington Research & Policy Center). When improperly recycled, these plastic bags can jam recycling equipment.

While paper bags are recycled at a significantly higher rate than disposable plastic bags, a paper bag produces significantly more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over its lifetime. Manufacturing paper bags results in greater atmospheric acidification, water consumption, and ozone production than plastic bags (Green Cities California).


What are other cities doing?

Fourteen communities in Washington State have placed restrictions on single-use plastic and paper bags.
Numerous communities around the nation and the world, beginning with Bangladesh in 2002, have restrictions on single-use shopping bags. Several models have been used to reduce dependency on single-use plastic and paper bags, each with their own advantages and limitations. For all models, paper bags must be at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content and 100 percent recyclable. Disposable bag regulations in other communities have shown the following: Voluntary reusable bag programs and outreach and education efforts are valuable, but have minimal impact on shifting consumer behavior.

Banning plastic bags eliminates their use, but typically increases paper bag use if the ban is not accompanied by a fee on paper bags. For example, Portland, Oregon banned plastic bags without placing a fee on paper bags which resulted in a 491% increase in paper bag use after the first year.

When a fee is placed on disposable paper bags, the fee amount matters. A small fee ($0.05) may only reduce paper bag use minimally or not at all, while a higher fee ($0.10-$1.00) is likely to decrease paper bag use. For example, Los Angeles, California banned plastic bags and placed a $0.10 fee on paper bags which resulted in a 25% reduction in paper bag use.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered a disposable shopping bag?

Disposable shopping bags are those typically given out at check-out aisles and include both plastic bags (“t-shirt” bags) and paper bags. Disposable shopping bags do not include other paper or plastic bags such as deli and produce bags, advertising and promotional bags, pet waste bags, or yard waste bags.

Why might disposable bags be restricted?

Grocery stores and other retailers in the United States annually provide 38 billion single-use paper and plastic bags to their customers. While many of the bags do get recycled, many more are disposed of as trash and many find their way into creeks, rivers, oceans, and highways as litter. These bags consume many resources and pose environmental risks that could be avoided through the use of reusable bags.

What if I already reuse my shopping bags for pet waste or trash can liners?

Though reuse of disposable shopping bags is certainly better than immediate disposal, a potential restriction would be intended to increase reusable bag use and minimize paper and plastic bag waste and litter. Pet waste bags, trash can liners and other plastic bags will still be available for purchase at grocery and other stores in Tacoma.

Isn't recycling these bags good enough?

Many large stores offer plastic bag recycling, but recycling rates for these bags remain very low, less than 6 percent nationally.

Does Tacoma accept recycled plastic bags at the curbside and at the recycling center?

Yes. However, if plastic bags aren’t recycled properly (bundled into one bag and tied at the top) they can jam recycling equipment, causing costly shutdowns to machinery.

When would this take effect?

Disposable bag restrictions typically take effect three to twelve months after adoption of the ordinance. This will be influenced by feedback from community members. Many bag ban programs delay implementation for several months to allow retail stores to use their existing supply of disposable bags.

How might this affect low-income residents?

Low income citizens would likely be exempt from these restrictions. Most disposable shopping bag restriction models include exemptions for people receiving SNAP, WIC, TANF or FAP benefits. The City may also consider providing free reusable bags to low income individuals.

How would restrictions be enforced?

If action is taken, enforcement might include self-reporting, random inspections and/or complaint-based follow up, and penalties could include written warnings and fines.

If there is a fee, where will this money go?

Fees typically remain with the retailers, though in some cases all or part of the fee is given to a local environmental cleanup organization.

Contact Us

Kristin Lynett
(253) 591-5571