The big question: What does “Reusable Bag” mean?

The definition of “Reusable Bag” has become a very important topic in drafting plastic bag laws.  It is essential to ensure that reusable bags are sturdy enough to withstand several uses (e.g. hundreds) and be machine-washable (to avoid ACC claims that reusable bags are contaminated with bacteria).

The biggest problem that San Francisco encountered when implementing its plastic bag ordinance was that several stores gave away thick plastic bags that just barely fell within the definition of “reusable bag” under SF’s ordinance.  In particular, Roplast Industries Inc. developed its “Plastic Bag Rehab” bag, which Roplast boasts: “At 2.25 mil, it is considered “reusable” by California law AB 2449 and San Francisco’s Bag Reduction Ordinance.”

This was a problem, because the goal of the ordinance – to reduce plastic bag use and associated waste/litter – is not achieved when stores are allowed to give away these bags for FREE. Another problem is that stores in San Francisco, inducing Delanos and Bi-Rite, give away the bags just like they would a normal plastic bags and cashiers at these stores insist that the “Plastic Bag Rehab” bags are recyclable in SF’s blue curbside recycling containers. However, plastic bags are not recyclable curbside in San Francisco! Plastic bags placed in curbside recycling bins in San Francisco actually hinder the recycling process by jamming the recycling sorting machines.

In 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to allow the Department of the Environment to modify the ordinance to dis-allow these bags, finding:

WHEREAS, Checkout bags use increasingly scarce resources including energy, and create pollution from production through disposal; and,

WHEREAS, The City and County of San Francisco adopted the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance (Environment Code Chapter 17) in 2007; and

WHEREAS, The intention of the Ordinance was to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags by banning them at supermarkets and drugstores; and,

WHEREAS, The Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance allows stores to give away reusable bags, which are defined as including any plastic bag at least 2.5 mil thick; and

WHEREAS, This definition has resulted in the unintended consequence of some stores distributing 2.5 mil thick polyethylene plastic bags, which may not be suitably durable, to customers for free; and,

WHEREAS, Plastic bags provided for free at checkout are usually perceived as disposable products who consumers then continue to treat as single-use plastic bags being used on average for just a few minutes, thus creating an impediment to increasing bag reuse; and,

WHEREAS, Plastic bags, even those composed of post-consumer waste are neither recyclable in the blue bin stream nor compostable and are currently major contaminants in San Francisco’s recycling and composting programs; and,

WHEREAS, Many of the offices of the members of the Board of Supervisors have and continue to receive complaints from the general public regarding the thicker plastic bags which are perceived as violating the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance; and.

WHEREAS, The Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance allows the Director of the Department of the Environment, after a public hearing, to adopt or amend guideline, rules and regulation in order to implement the Ordinance; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Board of Supervisors requests the Director of the Department of the Environment to promulgate new. or amend existing, regulations to ensure that reusable bags are suitably durable. and do not contribute to the landfill waste stream.

Other municipalities, including Los Angeles County’s PROPOSED ordinance, have learned from SF’s mistakes and have proposed more detailed definitions requiring that reusable bags be machine-washable and able to withstand 125 uses. (Unfortunately, LA County’s proposed ordinance was edited at the last minute to remove the machine washability requirement.) A variety of reusable bag definitions are pasted below – but only the definitions that include machine-washability should be used.

Lastly, a minimum charge (the cost of the bag or at least 10-cents) should apply to all reusable bags so that consumers see reusable bags as a product that they are purchasing – and thus hold the bags to a higher standard.

Plasticbaglaws.org’s proposed model definition:

“Reusable bag” means a bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and meets all of the following requirements:

(1)        has a minimum lifetime of 125 uses, which for purposes of this subsection, means the capability of carrying a minimum of 22 pounds 125 times over a distance of at least 175 feet;

(2)        is machine washable;

(3)        is labeled “Reusable” on the front and/or back of the bag in lettering at least one inch in height; and

(4)        if made of plastic, is a minimum of at least 2.25 mils thick.

Reusable Bag Definitions

ADOPTED LAWS/ORDINANCES

California state law (AB 2449)

(d) “Reusable bag” means either of the following:

(1) A bag made of cloth or other machine washable fabric that has handles.

(2) A durable plastic bag with handles that is at least 2.25 mils thick and is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse.

San Francisco, CA

“Reusable Bag” means a bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and is either (1) made of cloth or other machine washable fabric, and/or (2) made of durable plastic that is at least 2.25 mils thick.

Washington DC

“Reusable carryout bag” means a bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and is made of cloth, fiber, other machine washable fabric, or durable plastic that is at least 2.25 millimeters thick.

Kaua’I County, HI

“Reusable Bag” means a bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and is made of cloth or other machine washable fabric and/or is made of a durable material at least 2.25 millimeters thick and suitable for reuse.

Maui County, HI

“Reusable bag” means a bag that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple re-use and is (1) made of cloth or other washable fabric, or (2) made of durable material suitable for reuse.

Westport, CT

Reusable bag means a bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and is made of:

Cloth or other fabric; and/or Durable plastic that is at least 2.25 mils thick.

PROPOSED ORDINANCES

Los Angeles County, CA

i. “Reusable bag” means a bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and meets all of the following requirements:

(1) has a minimum lifetime of 125 uses, which for purposes of this subsection, means the capability of carrying a minimum of 22 pounds 125 times over a distance of at least

175 feet; (2) has a minimum volume of 15 liters; (3) is machine washable; (4) does not contain lead, cadmium, or any other heavy metal in toxic amounts; (5) has printed on the bag, or on a tag that is permanently affixed to the bag, the name of the manufacturer, the location (country) where the bag was manufactured, a statement that the bag does not contain lead, cadmium, or any other heavy metal in toxic amounts, and the percentage of postconsumer recycled material used, if any; and (6) if made of plastic, is a minimum of at least 2.25 mils thick.

Green Cities California model ordinance

(d) “Reusable grocery bag” on and after January 1, 2012, means a bag that meets the requirements of Article 3.

ARTICLE 3.  REUSABLE GROCERY BAGS

(a)           On and after January 1, 2012, a reusable grocery bag shall meet all of the following requirements:

(1)           (A)          Be designed and manufactured to withstand, at a minimum, 125 uses.

(B)          For purposes of this paragraph, “uses” means the capability of carrying a minimum of 22 pounds 125 times over a distance of at least 175 feet.

(2)           Be made from a material that can be cleaned and disinfected.

(3)           Have printed on the bag, or on a tag attached to the bag that is not intended to be removed, and in a manner visible to the consumer the following information:

(A)          The name of the manufacturer

(B)          The location (country) where the bag was manufactured

(C)          A recycling symbol or end-of-life management instructions

(D)          The percentage of postconsumer recycled material, if any.

(4)           It shall not contain lead, cadmium, or any other heavy metal in toxic amounts.

(b)           Notwithstanding Article 5, any violation of this article shall be subject to an administrative civil penalty assessed by the director in an amount not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500) for the first violation. A subsequent violation may be subject to an increased penalty of up to five hundred dollars ($500) per violation, not to exceed five thousand dollars ($5,000) per violation.

City of Berkeley, CA

“Reusable bag” means any bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse, and is either 1) made of cloth or other washable fabric, or 2) made of durable material, including plastic that is at least 3.0 mils thick.

REJECTED LAWS/ ORDINANCES

California state law (AB 1998)

(d) (1) “Reusable grocery bag” on or before June 30, 2013, means either of the following:

(A) A bag made of cloth or other machine washable fabric that has handles.

(B) A durable plastic bag with handles that is at least 2.25 mills thick and specifically designed for multiple reuses.

(2) “Reusable grocery bag” on and after July 1, 2013, means a bag that meets the requirements of Section 42287.

Article 4. Reusable Grocery Bags

42287. (a) On and after July 1, 2013, a reusable grocery bag shall meet all of the following requirements:

(1) (A) Be designed and manufactured to withstand, at a minimum, 100 uses.

(B) For purposes of this paragraph, “uses” means the capability of carrying a minimum of 22 pounds 100 times over a distance of at least 175 feet.

(2) Be made from a material that can be cleaned and disinfected.

(3) Have printed on the bag, or on a tag attached to the bag that is not intended to be removed, and in a manner visible to the consumer the following information:

(A) The name of the manufacturer.

(B) The location (country) where the bag was manufactured.

(C) A recycling symbol or end-of-life management instructions.

(D) The percentage of postconsumer recycled material, if any.

(4) It shall not contain lead, cadmium, or any other heavy metal in toxic amounts. This requirement shall not affect any authority of the Department of Toxic Substances Control pursuant to Article 14 (commencing with Section 25251) of Chapter 6.5 of Division 20 of the Health and Safety Code and, notwithstanding subdivision

(c) of Section 25257.1 of the Health and Safety Code, the reusable grocery bag shall not be considered as a product category already regulated or subject to regulation.

(5) If the reusable grocery bag makes a claim that it is recyclable, the producer shall demonstrate compliance with the regulations adopted by the Federal Trade Commission.

(b) In addition to the requirements in subdivision (a), a reusable grocery bag made from plastic shall meet all of the following requirements:

(1) On and after July 1, 2014, be made from a minimum of 20 percent postconsumer recycled material, except as provided in subdivision (d).

(2) In addition to the information required to be printed on the bag or on a tag, pursuant to paragraph (3) of subdivision (a), all of the following information shall be printed on the bag, or on a tag that complies with that paragraph:

(A) A statement that the bag is a reusable bag and designed for at least 100 uses.

(B) Instructions to return the bag to the store for recycling or to another appropriate recycling location.

(c) A plastic reusable grocery bag that also meets the specifications of the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standard Specification for Compostable Plastics D6400, as published in September 2004, is not required to meet the requirements of paragraph (1) of subdivision (b) , but shall be labeled in accordance with the applicable state law regarding compostable plastics.

(d) (1) If a plastic reusable grocery bag producer is unable to obtain sufficient amounts of postconsumer recycled material to comply with this article within a reporting period because of unavailability, the producer shall demonstrate to the department the actions taken by that plastic reusable grocery bag producer to find that postconsumer recycled material.

(2) A plastic reusable grocery bag producer making the demonstration in paragraph (1) shall make a reasonable effort to identify available supplies of postconsumer recycled material before submitting a certification containing this information to the department pursuant to Section 42288.

(3) A plastic reusable grocery bag producer shall include the greatest amount of postconsumer recycled material possible in the reusable grocery bag, even if this amount is less than required by paragraph (1) of subdivision (b) and shall indicate the percentage that is postconsumer recycled material.

City of Portland, OR

Reusable bag” means a bag that with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured

for multiple reuse and is made of durable material specifically designed for and provided to consumers with the intention of multiple, long-term use

 

Portland, OR