Best Practices

Energy Efficiency

Renewable Energy

Climate Change

Healthy Food Systems

Clean Air

Public Transportation

Clean Vehicles

Reducing Congestion

Green Building

Urban Planning

Green Jobs

Public Transportation

Clean Vehicles

Reducing Congestion


Habitat Restoration


Zero Waste

Manufacturer Responsibility

Consumer Responsibility

Water Access & Efficiency

Source Water Protection

Waste Water Reduction



waste reduction best practicePlastic Bag Ban

San Francisco, CA


Plastic Bag Ban
Photo source:

To reduce the number of single-use plastic bags and incentivize the use of reusable bags.


The 2007 ordinance prevented 54 large chain supermarkets and 57 retail pharmacies from distributing single-use plastic bags.

The 2012 ordinance will prevent all retail and food establishments from distributing singe-use plastic bags. Further, the 10-cent checkout bag charge will yield a 68-79% reduction in overall checkout bag consumption.

The Department of Environment has provided 22,000 free reusable scrap cloth bags for residents.

Background & Summary

One million littered plastic bags enter San Francisco Bay each year. Disposable plastic bags often contaminate recyclable and compostable waste streams and obstruct waste sorting equipment. San Francisco passed the nation’s first plastic bag ban in 2007. Strengthened in 2012, it remains the nation’s most extensive bag ban.

The 2007 Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance prohibits supermarkets and retail pharmacy stores from distributing single-use plastic bags at checkout counters. These stores are required to use properly labeled compostable plastic bags, recyclable paper bags (made with at least 40% post consumer content) and/or reusable checkout bags.

The 2012 Checkout Bag Charge Ordinance expands the plastic bag ban to all retail and food establishments, and imposes a 10-cent checkout bag charge for each compostable, recyclable paper or reusable bag distributed. The Ordinance will be implemented in stages, achieving full compliance by July 1, 2013.

Public Outreach & Education:
The Department of Environment held 23 meetings with merchant associations and communities of concern about the 2012 Ordinance. Merchant walks were conducted in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Tagalog, reaching 901 businesses in total. A vendor list for recyclable paper, compostable plastic and reusable bags is also provided for businesses.

The Department of the Environment partnered with the Bay Area Recycling Outreach Coalition, Integrated Waste Management Board, Sunset Scavenger Company and Chico Bag to launch the “Bring Your Own Bag” campaign. This social marketing campaign also distributes the Department’s free scrap cloth bags.

Public Support & Opposition:
A wide range of local environmental and planning organizations, the Arab Grocers Association and the City’s refuse hauler support the plastic bag ban. The 2012 Ordinance enjoyed support from the Mayor and was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors.

The plastic bag industry and the California Grocers Association opposed the 2007 ordinance. Plastic bag industry groups were concerned about a loss of revenue stemming from the ban.

Legal Issues:
Violators face penalties up to $100 for the first offense, up to $200 for the second, and a maximum of $500 for all subsequent violations within a year. One-year waivers can be granted to businesses that face undue hardship or practical difficulties with implementation.

California state law AB2449 preempts municipalities from charging a fee for plastic bags at checkout counters. San Francisco circumvented this law by enacting a ban instead.

The plastics industry, represented by the Coalition to Save the Plastic Bag, has taken an aggressive stance against subsequent jurisdictions that have pursued similar bans. Their contention is that cities need to conduct an Environmental Impact Report before proceeding with legislation. Green Cities California has conducted a Master Environmental Assessment on Single-Use and Reusable Bags to assist jurisdictions considering similar ordinances.

Fiscal Impacts

Reducing the number of plastic bags disposed as litter will save the City $1.2M annually. Reducing the number of plastic bags handled through the waste collection system will save ratepayers will save $2M annually.

Contact for This Best Practice

Name: Jack Macy
Job Title: Commercial Zero Waste Coordinator
Jurisdiction: City and County of San Francisco
Phone: (415) 355-3751

Last updated January 27, 2013



Zero Waste

Manufacturer Responsibility

Consumer Responsibility