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Shopping Bag Restrictions

Upcoming Opportunities 


First Reading of Bring Your Own Bag Ordinance

City Council Meeting 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

5:00 p.m.

Tacoma Municipal Building, Council Chambers, 1st Floor

747 Market Street


The public is welcome to attend and provide brief comments.


Draft Documents 

View the draft ordinance and implementation plans.


Survey Results

View the results of the public and business surveys.


Recent Developments

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.


Tacoma Considering Disposable Shopping Bag Restrictions

"One reusable shopping bag can replace between 57 and 315 disposable plastic bags in one year according to life-cycle analyses."

The Tacoma City Council is considering an ordinance on disposable shopping bags. TheOffice of Environmental Policy and Sustainability is conducting outreach and seeking feedback on this topic on behalf of the Council’s Infrastructure, Planning and Sustainability Committee. The proposed Bring Your Own Bag ordinance would set restrictions on the use of carryout bags, including disposable or single-use plastic shopping bags (t-shirt bags) and disposable paper bags. These restrictions would apply to retail stores within Tacoma, but not to nonprofit charitable organizations. Placing restrictions on disposable shopping bags is intended to increase the use of reusable shopping bags while reducing resource use, litter and waste.


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.



Reducing Our Use: Plastic Shopping Bags, Thurston County Solid Waste
A Solution Not in the Bag; Why Recycling Cannot Solve the Plastic Bag Problem in Washington, Environment Washington Research and Policy Center
Alternatives to Disposable Shopping Bags and Food Service Items, Herrera Environmental Consultants, Inc.
Plastic Bag Staff Report, City of Kirkland, Sept 2013
Retail Bags Report to the Legislature, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 2010
Keeping Plastics out of Puget Sound, Environment Washington Research & Policy Center, 2011
Master Environmental Assessment on Single-Use and Reusable Bags, Green Cities California, 2010
Implementation of the County of Los Angeles Plastic and Paper Carryout Bag Ordinance


Seattle Ordinance (2011)
Thurston County Ordinance (2013)
Bellingham Ordinance (2011)
Sacramento, California Ordinance (2015)


Local Legislation on Disposable Bag Use
State Legislation on Plastic and Paper Bag Use
American Progressive Bag Alliance



Fact Sheet

Contact Us

Kristin Lynett
(253) 591-5571