Goodbye Single-Use Carryout Bags!
Illustration of bag flying in the wind

Starting March 1, 2013, single-use carryout bags – including those thin flyaway plastic bags that often end up as litter – will no longer be provided by grocery and convenience stores, hardware stores, pharmacies, department stores, bookstores, sporting goods stores, gift shops and other types of businesses in Austin. Instead, you’ll have a choice of reusable bag options at checkout. The best thing to do is to get in the habit of bringing your own reusable bags with you every time you shop, wherever you shop.

Rethink waste.Two bags hanging from hooks

A high-quality reusable bag has the potential to replace 600 thin plastic bags over its lifetime. Austin’s Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance is not a ban on plastic bags, but it will drastically reduce the number of thin plastic bags that harm our environment, generate unsightly litter and wind up in area landfills. Thin plastic bags also contribute to flooding by clogging storm drains and creeks, and can be mistaken as food by wildlife.

If we all adopt reuse habits – such as bringing your own bags and buying products that are made to last – we can help Austin reach its Zero Waste by 2040 goal: a 90% reduction in the amount of trash sent to landfills by the year 2040.

Start shopping with reusable bags now. Here are some tips:

  • Keep your bags by the door, in your car, near your keys, or with store coupons. 
  • Put a sticker on your keys to remind you to bring bags into the store.
  • Add “bring my bags” to the top of your shopping list.
  • Keep foldable bags in pockets, backpacks, or your purse. 
  • Place your reusable bags at the front of your order on the conveyer belt so the cashier knows you have them and can use them to pack your merchandise. 
  • Separate all bags so the cashier can easily grab each one as needed.
  • Open bags that fold up while you are waiting in line.
  • Remember to clean/wash your reusable bags frequently. Follow the care instructions on the tag of the bag. 
  • View the calendar of events to find locations where you can pick up a free reusable bag.

What if I don’t remember to bring a bag?

Austin businesses may provide any of the following types of reusable bags at checkout:

  • Cloth, fabric or other woven bags, with handles.
  • Paper bags, made of at least 40% recycled content, with handles. At least 80% recycled content required by March 1, 2014. Handles are not required for paper bags that are smaller than 8 inches wide and 14 inches tall.
  • Plastic bags (at least 4 mil thick) with handles. This is an industry term for a plastic bag’s thickness; “1 mil” is .001 inch. A 4-mil bag is about as thick as a freezer bag.

The ordinance does not require businesses to charge a fee for any bag, though they may set a price for reusable bags.

Not all bags are affected.

The following are exceptions to the ordinance:

  • Produce bags and other non-checkout bags used for bulk items, unwrapped baked goods and frozen foods
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Door-hanger bags
  • Newspaper bags
  • Packages of multiple bags intended for disposal of trash, pet waste or yard trimmings
  • Paper bags used by restaurants; single-use plastic bags are only allowed if necessary to prevent moisture damage (for soups, sauces and other liquids)
  • Paper bags used by pharmacists or veterinarians for prescriptions or other medical necessities
  • Bags provided by nonprofit organizations

The Austin City Council unanimously approved the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance on March 2, 2012. A Fact Sheet for Shoppers is available for download.

Single-Use Plastic Bag Facts

  • Each year U.S. retailers give out 38 billion single-use paper and plastic carryout bags.

  • Single-use plastic bags can take hundreds of years to decompose in landfills.

  • Thin, single-use bags are a major source of litter and can cause flooding by clogging creeks and storm drains.

  • A high-quality reusable bag can replace 600 thin plastic bags over its lifetime.

  • The petroleum in 14 plastic bags could drive a car one mile.