Measuring the Effectiveness
of Plastic Bag Laws
Links to Effectiveness Studies
San Jose, CA - City of San Jose, 2012 - In under one year in San Jose, CA, a ban on thin plastic bags, coupled with a 10-cent fee on paper reduced bag litter in rivers to less than a third of the pre-ordinance levels.
Washington D.C. - Opinionworks, 2013 - After implementing plastic bag fee in Washington, D.C., 80% of residents reported using fewer bags each week and more than three-quarters of businesses report providing fewer bags to customers.
Washington D.C. - Alice Ferguson Foundation, 2015 - The Alice Ferguson Foundation surveyed how common plastic bags were during Washington DC's annual clean up before and after the implementation of a 5-cent fee on both plastic and paper.
Chicago, IL - City of Chicago (commissioned), New York University and the University of Chicago, 2017 - After the implementation of a 7-cent fee in Chicago, IL, the number of plastic bags used at grocery stores was cut in half.
San Francisco, CA - UseLessStuff, 2008 - In San Francisco, a ban on plastic bags (with no mandatory fee) was first implemented in 2007, only applying to large retail stores with over $2 million in annual sales. UseLessStuff conducted a survey on 25 stores affected by this ban-only ordinance and found that the ordinance was ineffective at changing consumer behavior.
Santa Monica, CA - Santa Monica High School, 2013 - A plastic bag ban and 10-cent fee for paper bags were introduced in Santa Monica, CA. A grocery store observation study found that before the ordinance, 69% of customers used plastic, which dropped to 0 because of the ban.
Aspen, CO - City of Aspen, 2018 - In Aspen, CO, there has been a ban on plastic bags and a 20-cent fee on paper bags since 2012. In 2016, a supermarket study of around 1600 customers showed around 15% of customers purchasing paper bags - all other customers used no bags or reusable bags.
Austin, TX - Austin Resource Recovery and The Zero Waste Advisory Commission, 2015 - The 2014 ban succeeded in decreasing Austin's thin plastic film waste in the litter and recycling streams. However, retailers switched to thick, "reusable" plastic bags, which were not covered by the ban.
Westport, CT - David Brown, Sc. D. Adjunct Faculty, Fairfield University - 2010 - In Westport, CT, a check-out survey showed that in areas affected by the ban-only ordinance, over 50% of customers used "reusable" bags (including thicker plastic bags), roughly 45% of customers used paper bags, and only 2% of customers carried out with no bag. Brown can be reached by email for further comment.
Interstore comparison from Maine to New Jersey - Ocean State Job Lot, 2018 - The retailer Ocean State Job Lot operates stores in several states and counties with plastic bag fees and bans. In stores where thin plastic bags were banned, 70% of customers used thicker plastic bags provided by the store.
Richmond, CA - University of California, Berkeley, 2014 - A University of California, Berkeley study looked at bag use before and after a plastic bag ban and 5-10 cent paper bag fee in Richmond, CA. After the ordinance was implemented, early 60% of people brought reusable bags at national chain stores and 70% of people at discount retailers.
Are the laws working?
This comprehensive spreadsheet of effectiveness data was prepared by Scientist Action and Advocacy Network (ScAAN) in partnership with PlasticBagLaws.org. The Effectiveness Spreadsheet is linked in Surfrider Foundation’s Plastic Bag Law Activist Toolkit, and the toolkit features summaries of the findings from U.S. studies currently available.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you know of other effectiveness studies that should be added to the Effectiveness Spreadsheet.
Collecting data on the effectiveness of local bag laws is very important in testing what laws and fees work in practice. The data can also be helpful when talking to legislators and the community. If you or your organization want to help in collecting data, follow the protocol linked here. Having a consistent collection methodology will ensure that data is useful and comparable later on.
We suggest partnering with a local University or non-profit group to assist in data collection and analysis.