On March 31, 2015, the City of Sacramento unanimously passed a single-use plastic bag ordinance that will take effect on January 1, 2016.

“This is about our city resuming our spot as a leader in the state of California and doing the right thing,” Mayor Kevin Johnson said before voting for the ordinance.

The ban will apply to single-use plastic bags provided at grocery stores, large pharmacies and convenience stores within the city. Paper bags and reusable bags will be available for sale for a minimum of .10 cents.

Customers will be able to bring in any type of bag into the stores for their own use free of charge. Also, participates using an EBT card or voucher with either the WIC or CalFresh program will not be charged for paper bags.

Plastic bags for produce, meat, prescriptions and bulk food purchases will still be available in stores. Restaurants that offer takeout, farmers markets, and non-profits and retail clothing stores are not subject to the ban.

California retailers distribute approximately 19 billion single-use plastic bags every year, equating to approximately 522 bags per person. In Sacramento, 14 million bags a month are distributed. It is estimated that less than five percent of those bags are recycled.

The bags end up in landfills, rivers, bays, oceans, and other natural environments. Plastic bags can break down into small pieces that contaminate soils and waterways, and can be ingested by marine life causing suffocation. Due to their light weight, single-use plastic bags can easily become caught in the wind, contributing to litter and visual blight.

While the city accepts single-use plastic bags in the curbside recycling program, handling these bags at the recycling center is cumbersome. The bags clog and slow sorting machines. On average, the processor must shut down its sorting machinery six times per day to remove tangled bags, which increases the processing cost for commingled recyclables.

Currently there is a statewide law, SB270, banning single-use plastic bags that is facing a referendum vote in 2016. The state law is not in effect until a decision is made by voters in November 2016 to either uphold the law, or veto it. The City’s ban, which mirrors the language in the state law, would remain in place if a “no” vote prevails. If the statewide law is upheld, the City’s ordinance would be preempted, however since implementation of the local ordinance is so closely aligned with the state law, there should be little to no disruption for customers and businesses if the statewide ban takes over.

Education regarding the City of Sacramento ban will begin for retailers in the summer of 2015 and a public awareness campaign to prepare for the change will start in the fall of 2016.