Questions and Answers

Q:  Why do we need a retail shopping bag ordinance? 

A:  The ordinance is part of a larger educational campaign to encourage the use of reusable bags, thereby contributing to a cleaner, healthier environment.

Q:  Are there countries that already have such a ban?

A:  Yes, most European countries, South Africa, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Botswana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tunisia, China, India, Bangladesh, Burma, Australia, Mexico

Q:  Are there states in the USA with a bag ordinance?

A:  California and Hawaii are the only states in the USA with a state-wide ban.

Q: What about other towns and cities?

A:  There are hundreds of towns and municipalities in the USA with local bans

Q:  Are there towns in Westchester that have bag legislation?

A:  Yes, City of Rye, Village of Larchmont, Village of Mamaroneck, Town of New Castle and Village of Hastings-on-Hudson

Q: Would't it be better to wait for county wide legislation?

A: It might be a while before the county will enact a reusable bag law. But if more municipalities adopt legislation, it might actually speed up the process on a county level.

Q: What do stores have to say about the ban?

A:  Many store managers and employees share our concern about the environment. There is no proof of customer decline after a ban. In fact, a reusable bag ordinance save stores on the purchase costs of disposable bags.

Q:  Why is there a charge for carry-out bags?

A:  A fee will encourage residents to bring their own bags. Studies show that bag fees reduce single-use bag usage. The merchants will keep the 10-cent fee to offset bag costs.

Q: What is better paper or plastic bags?

A: The environmental impact of bags is complicated. The plastic light weight bag generally has a significant smaller impact on the environment than the paper bag. But plastic littering is a much more serious problem than paper littering. For a better lay out of this question please go to:

The environmental impact of different types of carry out bags >


Q: Will merchants have any help with the transition?

A:  Yes, we have local task force groups that  work together with the stores and the trustees to help with the implementation process

Q: Can retailers just “eat the cost” of the bags and not charge their customers?

A: No. The minimum fee charge must be collected. It is meant to be a reminder to customers to shop with reusable bags, and for that reason the total cost of  bags sold must be shown on the customer’s sales receipt.

Q: How will this ordinance be enforced?

A: Like any other ordinance, it is the responsability of the town to enforce and control the legislation.

Q:  Some towns and recycle centers recycle disposable plastic shopping bags and some grocery stores collect them as well. Isn’t that easier?

A: Even recycled, these plastic bags have little to no value. The collection and transport of the bags will further burden the environment. To make good new plastic out of old bags requires yet another process with additional chemicals.

Q: Can disposable plastic or paper shopping bags create useful energy in an incinerator?

A: Yes, they create some energy, but the burning creates pollution and greenhouse gases. In fact the incinerator in Peekskill, that burns most of Westchester's trash is one of the main reasons that the American Lung Association has given Westchester a F for air Quality.

Q: What bag causes the biggest litter problem?

A: The single use plastic bags are a very problematic and costly litter problem. Due to their light weight they become airborne and end up in trees, streams and clog drains etc.

Q: Are our plastic bags the cause of the plastic problem in the oceans?

A: Yes and no. The plastic bags, and plastic in general, that end up in the ocean, mostly come from countries with inproper sanitation.

Due to the tendency of plastic single use bags to become airborne, these bags can indeed end up in the ocean, and land on our beaches.

In terms of weight, or in terms of micro plastics, the plastic disposable bags are contributing a small fraction of the problem.

Q: Why are plastics in our oceans and waterways so concerning?

A: Plastics are working as absorbants for toxic chemicals like PCBs, DDT, and other oil soluble toxins. Water animals eat the floating plastic particles mistaking them for food. Increasingly, when fish are cleaned, plastic is found in their digestive systems. When we eat seafood, we are also eating this tainted plastic. Equally worrying is that research showed that there are now plastic particles in most of our drinking water.

Read more about plastic in our drinking water >

Read more about plastic in our food >

Q: How do plastic disposable bags impact our wildlife?

A: Single use plastic bag appear like jelly fish when floating in the ocean and have an impact on sea animals, like sea turtles, who eat jellyfish.

Plastic bags can litter nests and entangle necks and legs of animals.

Q: What happens to the disposable bags in towns that use a landfill?

A: In modern landfills our waste is expected to be contained and insulated.

In older landfills, or in landfills with leakage, plastic will not decompose but can shed toxins into the ground water. In leaking landfills, paper bags will decompose without enough air, and produce methane, a serious greenhouse gas.

Q:  Aren’t there other things more important for the environment to worry about?

A: Yes there are more important things, like the plastic waterbottles for example, or eating meat or using an airplane. But the use of reusable bags are a good first step. Ordinances for reusable bags make a small but significant change. It is also a good opportunity to make customers familiar with the concept of 'reusing'.

Q:  Do reusable bags not use much more energy to create?

A:  That depends on the material, and usage. If you want to find a 'guilt free' solution you can buy a second hand bag at a thrift store, or buy a bag made repurposed fabrics. For more information on this topic, go to:

What Is A Good Bag >

Q:  Are we putting people out of jobs with our reusable bags?

A:  No, just like solar energy replaces coal, we need people to make reusable bags, people who can repair reusable bags etc.

Q:  Why isn’t recycling a good option?

A:  Because plastic bags are not really profitable to recycle. The recycling process requires energy and chemicals as well. The same holds true for paper bags.

Q:  I use the single-use, disposable plastic shopping bags at home for other purposes. What should I do now?

A:  There will still be plastic bags used for packaging, dry cleaning, pet food, take out, cereal etc. Try to reuse those as liners, for dog litter etc.

Also, recyclables and trash can be discarded without being bagged.

Q: Can reusablele bags be unhygienic? Produce bags to protect fish, meat and other types of food are excempt from the law. If you are still concerned about contamination we advise you to buy a reusable bag that is easy to clean or to wash.

Q: Do we need a minimum price on reusable bags?

A: If you want to avoid stores to provide customers with heavier weight plastic bags for free, you should. In many countries these heavier plastic bags have taken the place of dicposable plastic bags, and often they are still discarded after single use.

Q: Why can’t we leave it up to the stores to make their own policy, in stead of having the government involved?

A: Stores generally support the idea of a fee or a retail value on their carry-out bags, yet they are afraid, that they will lose customers, if the other stores keep giving out the bags for free, so they are reluctant to take the initiative.

Q: What is wrong with a plastic bag ban without a fee?

A: If there is only a ban on plastic , store owners will switch to free paper bags. This is a problem for the stores because paper bags cost generally ten times as much as the plastic disposable bags. But from an environmental point of view this is also a bad idea because the paper bags have a bigger carbon footprint than the plastic disposable bags. But most importantly, just banning  plastic disposable bags does not result in a real uptick in the use of reusable bags.

Q: Amazon doesn't charge for packaging, why should stores do so?

A: Our opinion is that Amazon should make the price of packaging transparent as well. Regretfully this needs regulation on a higher level.

Q: What about biodegradable plastic bags?

A:  Biodegradable plastics have additives that make the plastics, after contact with light or water, break into smaller fragments. The plastic doesn't disappear. Biodegradable plastics actually make the plastic problem worse; little fragments of the plastic remain in the environment. Also, biodegradable bags mess up the recycling process.

Q: What about compostable plastic bags?

A: Compostable materials can have a big carbon foortprint as well. It is always better to refuse and reuse. But if you buy compostable bags make sure it is made from a left over product, like cornhusks, and not from a food source, and not transported over long distances. Always read the label carefully. Compostable plastics are generally not suitable for backyard composting, so you need to be able to dispose of them through a industrial composting facility.

Q Is a bag ordinance unfair for poor people?

A The bag should be a regular store product. Just like all the other things a store sells, there is no different price tag on cereals, coffee or any other products, for poor people.

Yet, we do ecourage stores and towns to give out free reusable bags during the implementation period of the ordinance. People with insufficient financial means can also obtain a free reusable bag at the the Take It Or Leave It -sheds in White Plains, Chappaqua and Bedford Hills or at the Community Center of Northern Westchester>

Q: How are the different bags specified?

A: Towns can use their owns specifications for the bags. The specifications of the bags in New Castle and Suffolk County can be found in their ordinances:

To see the Suffolk County ordinance, click her>

To see the New Castle ordinance, click here>

To find additional information and see our resources, click here>

If you have any remaining questions, please don't hesitate and send us an email: info@thereusablebaginitiative.org