Frequently Asked Questions

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

Retail: Yes. Customers 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.

Eating Establishments:  Yes, if the bags remain in the customer’s possession (and bags do not enter food preparation or utensils/food storage areas).

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 without handles provided for carry out-out of hot/prepared food (e.g. spill protection from hot soup or liquid items) for consumption at or away from the store
  • bags without handles provided to the customer to hold prescription medication dispensed from the pharmacy
  • 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).

The law does not require eating establishments to charge for paper bags at point of sale.

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.

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 or eating establishment with no restrictions on their use.

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 plastic bags labeled or sold as “compostable” or “bioplastic” or “biodegradable” allowed as reusable bags?

The Alameda County Reusable Bag law requires a “reusable bag” to meet certain performance criteria, as verified by an independent laboratory, to be considered compliant.  Plastic bags labeled or sold as “compostable” or “bioplastic” or “biodegradable”  generally do not meet the specifications of a compliant reusable bag under the Alameda County law.  BPI-certified compostable plastic bags as well as bags that meet the State definition of 'Compostable' do NOT meet the Alameda County reusable bag requirements. Contact staff at bags@stopwaste.org if you have questions regarding these bag types.

What should I do with leftover non-compliant bags?

Businesses should be ordering and distributing compliant bags. If you purchased or were supplied with non-compliant bags you cannot distribute them to customers, but you may find an alternate use for them in your business (such as lining waste baskets) or you may donate them to charitable reuse organizations such as food banks which are in need of bags for food distribution to community members without enough to eat. Contact information for food banks can be found here.

What about the bags used in complementary gift wrap?

Bags used for gift wrap are subject to the bag requirements and must be charged for.

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.

What eating establishments have to comply with the ordinance?

All public eating establishments including restaurants, food trucks, cafes, bars and others selling prepared food and beverages are prohibited from distributing single-use plastic checkout bags to customers for their take-out food. Temporary food vendors that operate in Flea & Farmer's market stalls are not covered by the ordinance.

Do eating establishments have to charge customers for compliant paper bags?

No. The bag charge and receipt itemization are not required when restaurants give out compliant recycled-content paper bags to customers.  Eating establishments are required to charge for reusable bags (including thick, durable plastic bags) and itemize the charge on the receipt.

What about to-go items that could spill?

The law only applies to carryout bags, not to paper or plastic bags without handles that are used to protect food (such as around containers of soup or stew to prevent spilling).

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.  

Are Farmers’ Markets affected by the bag law?

No. Many Farmers’ Markets are operated by non-profit entities (who are exempt from the law) and the majority of bags provided by vendors are produce bags (no handles) which are allowed under the law.   Many markets have their own set of rules regarding the types of bags. In addition, many Farmers’ Market customers already bring their reusable bags to shop, and the operators of these markets actively provide outreach to shoppers to bring their own reusable bags.

Did the Reusable Bag Law stop during Alameda County shelter in place?

Due to COVID-19, the state Reusable Bag Law was temporarily suspended for 60 days spanning May and June 2020. During the suspension, customers were not permitted to bring their personal reusable bags into businesses and, because of this, businesses were allowed the option of not charging for bags. Some businesses stopped charging and others businesses continued charging during the suspension.

After the suspension ended (expired 06/21/2020), all grocery and affected food stores in California (SB 270) and all grocery and retail businesses in Alameda County (ACWMA 2012-02) are were again required to charge customers at least $0.10 per bag and eating establishments and delivery services in Alameda County (ACWMA 2016-02) are required to charge customers at least $0.10 per reusable plastic bag. Retailers who temporarily waived required bag charges must reinstate the charges and may allow customers to use their personal reusable bags while adhering to safety protocols.  

 

Is it safe for my store to accept reusable bags in?

We understand safety is a top concern for businesses seeking to protect their employees and customers. The Centers for Disease Control report that COVID-19 is not shown to be spread via shared surfaces. The use of disposable options have not been shown to be a safer option than reusables while the environmental impacts of disposable options are well documented.

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.

What about wineries?

Please visit this page for information regarding the Reusable Bag Ordinance that clarifies the Ordinance requirements as they relate to Alameda County wineries.

What if I have questions about the law not answered here?

If you have questions about the law, we'd like to help you understand the changes and offer assistance. Please complete our online contact form, or email us at bags@stopwaste.org.