Picture taken February 23, 2012 just outside of the Yolo County landfill after a windstorm blew litter from the landfill face into the surrounding areas. Among the many things proposed to be banned in Davis, a ban on Plastic Bags was discussed in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

On November 12, 2013, the City Council adopted a Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance. The ordinance went into effect July 1, 2014. Ordinance #2422: Single-Use Carryout Bags Ordinance On May 27, 2014 City Council voted to amend the Carryout Bag Ordinance to exempt restaurants from being required to charge 10 cents for paper or reusable bags. Ordinance #2436 Single-Use Carryout Bags Amendment.

On May 22, 2012, Hawaii became the first state in the country to ban plastic bags after all four counties in Hawaii decided to ban plastic bags (article).

There are many reasons for plastic bag bans. One major concern is that plastic bags litter cities and create a mess to clean up. Another concern is that animals can ingest plastic bags or suffocate due to plastic bags. Plastic bag litter cleanup is costly and the cost is ultimately passed onto taxpayers.

Supermarkets and other stores generally are neutral toward or supportive of plastic bag bans. Plastic bags are currently being given away for free by stores. If plastic bags are banned, stores can sell reusable bags and earn a profit this way. The stores also save money by not having to give away free plastic bags. Increased use of reusable bags also means that stores will no longer be losing as much money by giving out paper bags. Giving away plastic and paper bags for free increases prices for all customers.

The multi-billion dollar plastic bag industry is vehemently opposed to plastic bag bans. Plastic bags are made mostly from foreign oil. Oil companies also stand to lose from a plastic bag ban. Big Oil is very powerful and will no doubt spend money to oppose any ban on plastic bags.

From experiences in San Francisco, San Jose, and Alameda County the impact to consumers will be minimal. Paper bags are still available. Reusable bags are readily available in supermarkets and pharmacies. Once people become used to carrying around reusable bags, a plastic bag ban is no big deal. Plastic bag bans can be good for the environment and ultimately will reduce costs for stores since they will no longer have to pay for plastic bags to give away for free. The cost savings from eliminating plastic bags will save stores money and ultimately can lead to lower prices.

The ultimate losers of a plastic bag ban are the plastic bag industry and oil companies.

City of Davis Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance

  • The Carry-Out Bag Ordinance applies to all retail, restaurants, and take-out food (fast-food) businesses.
  • The ordinance does NOT apply to nonprofit charitable reuse stores (thrift stores).

Starting July 1, 2014:

  • A business may NOT provide single-use plastic carry-out bags to customers (plastic carry-out bags are banned).
  • A business may provide customers with a recycled paper bag or reusable bag, but ONLY if the business charges a minimum price of 10 cents per bag.
  • Restaurants are not required to charge a fee for paper or reusable bags provided for take-out food (Updated Notice: June 18th, 2014)
  • Customers have the following options:
    • Purchase a paper bag for a minimum of 10 cents (business may charge more than 10 cents if they wish)
    • Purchase a reusable bag for a minimum of 10 cents (business may charge more than 10 cents if they wish)
    • Bring their own reusable bags
    • Refuse a bag and carry their merchandise out without a bag.
  • A business may exempt customers paying for goods with WIC, CalFresh, SNAP or other food stamp cards from bag charges.
  • Businesses retain the money collected from bag charges. The 10 cent paper bag pass-through is exempt from sales tax.
  • Protective bags (without handles) may be provided at no charge for use to segregate and transport items to the cashier (e.g. bags for meat, produce, prescriptions, greeting cards, or bulk items).
  • Paper bags must meet certain criteria. See the Bag Compliance page for details.
    • Paper carryout bag must be 40 percent post-consumer recycled content minimum.
    • An eight pound-rated or smaller paper carryout bag must be 20 percent post-consumer recycled content minimum.
    • The bags recycled content percentage must be printed on the paper carryout bag. (example: “Made from 40% post-consumer recycled materials”).
    • The paper carryout bag must be recyclable and compostable (no plastic or cloth handles or other components).
  • Reusable bags must meet certain criteria. See the Bag Compliance page for details. Reusable requirements:
    • Must be machine washable or easily cleaned or disinfected.
    • Does not contain lead, cadmium, or any other heavy metal in toxic amounts, as defined by applicable State and Federal standards and regulations for packaging or reusable bags.
    • If made of plastic, is a minimum of at least 2.25 mils (thousandths of an inch) thick.
    • Has a minimum lifetime of 125 uses, which for purposes of this subdivision, means the capability of carrying a minimum of 22 pounds 125 times over a distance of at least 175 feet.
  • Enforcement is on a complaint basis.

More information about the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance is found on DavisRecycling.org.

Proposed DRAFT Davis Carryout Bag Ordinance

(NOTE: This is NOT the ordinance that the City ultimately voted to enact. This section refers ONLY to the draft ordinance proposed by the City's Natural Resources Commission) Picture taken February 23, 2012 just outside of the Yolo County landfill after a windstorm. The litter is more than just plastic carryout bags—there was also paper bags, garbage bags, candy wrappers and anything light weight and aerodynamic. At the request of the Natural Resources Commission (NRC), and at the urging of the community, the City is looking into an ordinance limiting the distribution of single-use carryout bags. The goal of the ordinance is to reduce the distribution of single‐use carryout bags and encourage the switch to reusable carryout bags.

The original draft of the City's Carryout Bag Ordinance would have only applied to grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores and large drug stores in Davis—this was changed by City Council and the final ordinance applies to ALL retail and ALL restaurants. A 10 cent per bag charge would be applied to all carryout paper bags distributed at the point of sale at affected stores to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags. However, these paper bags must be recyclable and contain 40% post-consumer content as is the case with all similar municipal ordinances. The 10 cent charge is the estimated cost of recovery incurred by stores for distribution of the recyclable large sized paper bags and is also the most common fee imposed by other municipalities with such ordinances. The stores keep the 10 cent fee. Reusable bags would be required to have a charge, to prevent retailers from simply handing out thicker plastic carry out bags for free. The proposed ordinance would only restrict carryout bags provided at the point of sale, it does not include meat and produce bags or pharmacy bags. Restaurants and food vendors would have been exempt under the proposed draft, but as noted above, City Council decided to include them in the final ordinance.

The DRAFT ordinance contained a mandate for retailers to track and report the use of paper bags—this requirement was removed in the final ordinance that was passed by Council in November 2013. Some business owners considered this provision complicated and unnecessarily cumbersome. Others stated during public comment at meetings that they are required to itemize all things purchased by customers, bags included, so very little extra work would be required. Such clauses are not included in all similar ordinances, such as one recently passed in San Luis Obispo County, which does not require reporting for paper bags. However, such a clause does allow the City of Davis to verify how effective the ordinance is in reducing single-use carryout bags usage and verify if a store is non-compliant (handing out paper bags for free). Ultimately, the City Council decided to remove the reporting requirements from the ordinance.

More information about the City's DRAFT Carryout Bag Ordinance. The NRC reviewed the draft ordinance at their March 26, 2012 meeting and voted 4-2 to accept the draft ordinance for staff to begin the CEQA environmental review process. February 2012 Staff Report to the NRC regarding a proposed Carryout Bag Ordinance.

What looks like a wall at the top of the hill is actually a fence at the landfill covered in windblown plastic. Picture taken February 23, 2012.

The ordinance was originally proposed by the City's NRC Zero Waste Subcommittee in November 2011. The NRC Subcommittee drafted an ordinance to cover all the major grocery, drug, and large chain stores in Davis (about 2 dozen total) while almost all of the small downtown business merchants would be exempt. The Subcommittee estimated that this would eliminate well over 90% of the estimated 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 larger size, single-use plastic bags distributed annually in Davis. Restrictions on the thinner handle-less plastic bags shoppers use for meats and produce within a store were not included in this ordinance for sanitary reasons and restaurants.

November 2011 Staff Report and NRC Proposed Carryout Bag Ordinance

Other Local Efforts to Reduce Single-Use Carryout Bags in Davis

  • CalPIRG has collected over 4,500 individually signed petitions to the NRC signed by UCD students requesting the City ban plastic bags.
  • The Davis Food Coop has never bought and used single-use take-out plastic bags, and already charges $0.05 for a paper bag.
  • Trader Joes only gives out paper bags
  • Several stores like Nugget and Target give you a discount for bringing your own bags
  • The UC Davis Stores implemented a charge for single use bags after a bag ban proposal was brought forth by ASUCD Senator Darwin Moosavi

Local impact of plastic bags after February 2012 high winds

February 2012 brought high winds to Davis and a pair of articles at the end of the month, describing the impact of plastic bags in Davis.

An article by Alan Pryor in The Vanguard ("Wind Storm Litters Davis Countryside with Plastic Bags Right Before NRC Considers Single-Use Bag Ordinance") showed photos of thousands of plastic bags in the slough just to the south of the Yolo County Central Landfill. Pryor stated, "it was obvious they had been blown from the land fill over the retaining fence during the wind storm." He also noted that the plastic bags had traveled quite a bit: "Even worse, driving back to the freeway and West Sac along Co. Rd 105, I counted over 200 plastic bags in the weeds, trees, and barb wire fences along the roadways before even getting to the freeway. Some of these bags were over a mile away from the landfill."

The Davis Enterprise ran a similar article ("Davis residents help clean up plastic bags near landfill"), reporting on the experiences of Davis resident Cayce Wallace. Confirming the Vanguard story, the article reported: "The wind had blown plastic bags of all kinds off the landfill site and throughout the area, in some cases sending them more than two miles away to nearby farmland, and covering several spots where thousands of birds nested." According to Wallace, "There were a couple of great blue herons that were standing in the middle of the trash and egrets that were landing and then I went back and there were birds that had gotten caught up in the plastic. There was a kestrel and a cattle egret, they were picking at it, trying to get it off of them." Wallace says that she helped untangle the birds from the bags and then spent several weeks trying to clean up the bags, accompanied by several friends. According to Jacques DeBra, city of Davis public utilities manager, picking up all the garbage can be difficult, since new trash is brought in daily to the landfill, adding to the potential for non-compacted or uncovered trash to blow with the wind. In 2010, the landfill's staff estimated workers spent more than 1,815 hours picking up litter at the landfill, costing roughly $34,000.

Both articles are linked below.


Plastic bag caught in a tree. Picture taken March 30, 2012 in Davis near the Davis High School. The Davis Enterprise

The Aggie

The People's Vanguard of Davis

  • This is just one of the many proposed bans in Davis


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2013-06-12 03:09:27   Personally I love getting plastic bags. When I had an apartment I'd always get plastic bags after buying groceries. I find them useful to put trash and recycle instead of using large trash bags. It saves me money. Also when I'm at home in Davis I can use them to pick up poop for my dogs. It's a win/win situation in my book. —teamdarwin

  • Why do you think that other people should subsidize your use of plastic bags? If you want plastic bags, buy them, and recognize that they have a real cost. The world does not owe you free plastic bags. —CovertProfessor

2013-07-07 02:59:17   Yes the world owes me free plastic bags. —SarahMD

2013-07-07 03:01:42   And healthcare. —SarahMD

2014-01-25 15:50:59   I embrace the plastic bag for picking up the dog poo, too. Should this be on the dog page instead? BUT! Grocery Outlet's plastic bags are so flimsy (as are CVS, safeway, I can go on), they can't even reliably hold dog poo, much less my groceries. But like the professor says, I do feel that I can afford to buy some bags for this personal item, except, OMG- I have like thousands already stock-piled! I'm set for dog poo Armageddon. PLEASE Davis, get this ban going. —JaneBF

2014-05-12 08:16:37   How is this handled in a grocery store? Does the cashier wait until the bagger finishes bagging, then puts in the actual number of paper bags used for large orders? (And let's recognize not all customers go through the express 15-item or less lanes...I at least do large trips to save money) Is there any recourse if the bagger uses more bags than we feel later were needed? At a dime per bag, isn't in the store's interest to push unnecessary overusage of paper bags onto the customer? - JeffWoodJeffWood

  • I'm going to guess that most stores will now bag everything first and then charge you, and if you object to the number of bags used, you are more than welcome to say so. Stores aren't going to make you buy a bag, they just can't give them out for free anymore. -JeffT

2014-07-10 10:29:40   Some of these comments make no sense. A business has been giving customers plastic bags for years! The cost has been part of doing business. To claim that the bags have "a real cost" is pointless—the cost has been part of the business for decades. If Target wanted to stop using bags, they were welcome to do so at any point. Any store can choose not to give the customers bags, or charge them for the bags. It's called doing business. What annoys me is the ban. If people want a business to save money or if they believe that the plastic bags are bad, they are welcome NOT to use the bags. But how about giving us the freedom—the option—to use the plastic bags for our purchases, perhaps then reuse the plastic bags for some other purpose (cleaning up after our dog, recycling cans, trash, etc.), and then recycle the plastic bags when we are done using them. If the concern is trash, then how about a ban on all beverage holders? And perhaps a ban on cars as well? How about a ban on all packaging? A ban on all candy bar wrappers? I see more of that trash everywhere than plastic bags. —ChrisBenoit

2014-07-10 10:36:48   Only rigid plastics are recyclable, like milk gallon containers. —ToddKaiser What do the grocery stores do with the plastic bags in their recycle containers that say " plastic bags only "? -Sue Hmmm not sure, I've never even noticed those. But most small cities are not able to recycle plastic bags. It makes more sense to remove them from circulation rather than have 90% (*making this figure up) end up in the dump. -Todd

2014-07-13 20:36:23   ChrisBenoit, actually I think a ban on unnecessary packaging is a great idea. —MeggoWaffle