Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Alameda County Reusable Bag Ordinance affected by the statewide plastic bag ban (SB 270)?

Alameda County affected stores must comply with the requirements of the Alameda County Reusable Bag Ordinance, as the state law does not preempt or take precedence over city or county ordinances adopted prior to September 1, 2014.  

How is the Alameda County Reusable Bag Ordinance different from the State Single-Use Bag Ban?

The differences between the two include the following:

  1. The Alameda County ordinances does not require reusable plastic bags to contain recycled content. The state law, regulated by the state recycling entity CalRecycle, requires reusable bags to be manufactured with recycled content materials.
  2. The Alameda County ordinance does not allow bioplastic or compostable bags as compliant bags. The state law does.
  3. The Alameda County ordinance covers all retail stores. The state law does not. 
  4. The Alameda County ordinance covers restaurants and eating establishments. The state law does not.
  5. Violations in Alameda County are governed by Alameda County’s ordinance and enforced by the Alameda County Waste Management Authority.   

Please keep in mind that Alameda County affected stores must comply with the requirements of the Alameda County Reusable Bag Ordinance, even where different from the state law.

Can customers bring their own plastic, paper and/or reusable bags?

Yes. Consumers may bring any type of bag (including single-use plastic bags) to a store for their purchases, and are encouraged to do so. Customers are only charged for bags provided by the store at check-out.

Are all bags provided by stores subject to a charge?

No. The ordinance does not regulate use of single-use bags used to protect and transport produce, bulk food or meat from within a store to the checkout or cash register. Other bags not subject to charge include bags provided for carry-out of hot/prepared foods for consumption at or away from the store, bags without handles provided to the customer to hold prescription medication dispensed from the pharmacy and bags without handles used to segregate food that could damage or contaminate other contents of a carry-out bag. A protective bag can also be put on an item at check-out to ensure the safety of the item (ex. wine bottle sleeve) or change out the packaging for reuse (ex. berries from the baskets to paper bags).

Does everyone have to pay the bag charge?

Yes, however the ordinance allows stores to decide how they handle customers participating in WIC and CalFresh/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) programs. The ordinance does not require a Store to impose a bag charge to those participating in SNAP and WIC, nor does it mandate a Store to give out free reusable or free recycled paper bags. Per SNAP and WIC program regulations (NOT the Authority’s Ordinance 2012-2 regulations), if a Store charges fees for bags, SNAP and WIC funds cannot be used to pay those fees. Customers should bring enough reusable bags needed to carry items purchased at the store. 

Is the charge per bag taxable?

No, the State Board of Equalization (BOE) indicates that the charge on bags would not be subject to State sales tax.  Please see this statement from the BOE

Who keeps the (minimum) 10 cents per bag?

All proceeds from the sale of recycled paper bags and reusable bags are retained by the retailer with no restrictions on their use.

What about public eating establishment located within a retail establishment?

In this case, a café within a department store, or a delicatessen within a grocery store must follow ordinance requirements for public eating establishments when registers are designated only for the sale of prepared food (as a stand-alone restaurant would). If customer purchases merchandise item along with prepared food, the entire purchase is subject to the ordinance requirement for retailers including a minimum ten-cent charge for paper or reusable bags.

For Retailers

What should I do with leftover non-compliant bags?

Please do not throw your old bags in the trash, they can still be put to good use.  Charitable reusers such as food banks are exempt from the law and are allowed to distribute single-use plastic bags.  Contact the Alameda County Community Food Bank at (510) 635-3663 to donate your old bags before May 1, 2017.

Can stores charge more than 10 cents per compliant bag?

Yes.

What are the requirements for a compliant recycled content paper bag?

The paper bags with handles your store offers for sale at checkout must meet the following requirements:

  • Paper bags must contain no old growth fibers
  • Bags must be a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled content paper
  • Bags must be 100 percent recyclable and compostable, including the handles
  • Bags must have all the following information printed in a highly visible manner on the outside of the bag:
    • The word “recyclable” 
    • Name and country of the manufacturer
    • The percentage of post-consumer recycled content paper

Please see Bag Specifications for more information.

Where can I get compliant reusable bags for my store?

Please refer to the Specifications and Sources for Reusable Bags for a listing of reusable bags in compliance with Ordinance 2016-02. The intent of this listing is to make it easier for stores to find reusable bags in compliance with the Reusable Bag Ordinance in Alameda County. The companies listed and the information presented is subject to change without notice. The companies listed are not endorsed or recommended by the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, nor is the list inclusive of all bag vendors that supply reusable bags compliant with Ordinance 2016-02.

What information needs to be printed on reusable bags?

Reusable bags need to have the following information printed on the bag or on a permanent tag:

  • Name of the manufacturer
  • Country of manufacture
  • A true statement that the bag does not contain lead, cadmium or other heavy metal in toxic amounts
  • Percent of post-consumer recycled material used in the bag, if any

Please see Bag Specifications for more information.

Are bioplastic bags allowed as reusable bags?

No.  They do not meet the specifications of a reusable bag under the Alameda County law.