The average bag you pick up at the grocery store or carry your takeout in has a lifespan of about 12 minutes. When discarded, they clog sewage and storm drains, entangle and kill an estimated 100,000 marine mammals every year, and degenerate into toxic microplastics that fester in our oceans and landfills for up to 1,000 years.

Despite this, shoppers collectively use around 500 billion single-use plastic bags every year. That’s 150 bags per person, per year, for every single person on Earth — or enough to circle the globe 4,200 times. Luckily, we’re starting to see communities around the U.S., and the world, mobilize to reduce waste by banning, taxing, or otherwise limiting the use of these plastic bags. wanted to take a big-picture look at where legislation has been passed, and what its effects have been. Which cities in the US are leading the way for plastic bag bans? Internationally, which countries have made the most significant push?

Summary of Key Takeaways

  • In the U.S., only 2 states (CA and HI) have banned plastic bags on a statewide level
  • 4 U.S. states (DE, ME, RI, NY) have mandatory recycling or reuse programs in place
  • 10 U.S. states (AZ, FL, IA, ID, IN, MI, MN, MO, MS, WI) have places preemptive bans on banning plastic bags.
  • ~200 U.S. municipalities have banned or taxed plastic bags; outcomes have been largely positive, including:
    • San Jose, CA: Reduction of plastic bags in storm drains (89%), rivers (60%), and residential areas (59%); average # of bags per person reduced from 3 to 0.3.
    • San Francisco, CA: Savings of up to $600k per year in plastic processing fees.
    • Seattle, WA: Reduction of plastic bags in both residential (48%) and commercial (76%) waste.
  • Globally, plastic bags are banned in 32 countries, 18 of which are in Africa

Plastic bag legislation in the US

Many lists of plastic bag bans exist online — but most are convoluted and hard to understand. In assembling our data, we drew public information from the National Conference of State Legislators and a number of state-level, and country-level reports. In America, only two states have conclusively banned single-use plastic bags: Hawaii and California.

Though Hawaii’s ban came first, it wasn’t technically a state-wide ban: all five Hawaiian islands (Big Island, Honolulu, Kauai, Maui, and Pala) individually banned plastic bags at various points — the last of which took effect in 2015. The bans, which aim to fully phase in by 2020, range in definition and severity, but generally still allow for the use of 100% recyclable plastic bags.

California passed a unilateral, state-wide ban in September of 2014, and it went into effect in November of 2016. The law bans single-use plastic bags at all large retailers, and imposed a 10-cent charge for paper bags. Before the law was passed, more than 100 California counties already had various bans in place.

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