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FAQ

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What is a “plastic bag ban”?
Cuyahoga County’s plastic bag ban targets single-use plastic bags that stores provide to consumers at the checkout. This means stores are prohibited from providing disposable plastic bags to consumers.

Although the ban focuses on bags dispenses at the checkout, there are some exemptions—for example, pharmacists can continue to use plastic bags when they sell prescription drugs.

Read the legislation.


Why does Cuyahoga County have a plastic bag ban?
Disposable plastic bags are a major source of pollution in our environment and our waterways. The average time a plastic bag is used is just 12 minutes, but can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Over 319 million plastic bags become waste each year in Cuyahoga County. They also harm wildlife and people and impose cleanup costs on our communities. By passing legislation, Cuyahoga County joins the many other communities and nations who are taking steps to curb plastic pollution.


When does the plastic bag ban go into effect?
The ban goes into effect January 1, 2020. However, to help ease this transition, the County is providing a six-month grace period through July 1 to help stores and consumers adapt to the change.

Retailers will not be fined during the six-month grace period but should begin the transition now to coordinate supply-chain logistics to ensure compliance by July 1.


Who is affected by this ban?
Retail stores, convenience stores and other businesses located in Cuyahoga County are affected unless they are located in a city that opted out. Cities that have opted out include North Olmsted, Strongsville, Independence and Brooklyn.


Do plastics bag bans work?
Yes. Many countries and U.S. cities have adopted bag bans. At least 127 countries and 349 jurisdictions have regulations on plastic bags. In cities like San Jose, CA, programs have reduced the amount of plastic litter in drain systems by 89 percent and by 60 percent in creeks, rivers, streets and neighborhoods.

I haven’t made the switch yet; what do I do?
To help ease the transition to reusable bags, retailers will have a transition period until July 1. Retailers will not be fined during the six-month grace period but should begin the transition now to coordinate supply-chain logistics to ensure compliance by July 1.


If I order thicker plastic bags, or compostable plastic bags, would I be in compliance?
The code does not permit plastic bags and was designed to discourage companies from just replacing thin plastic bags with thicker ones that create the same environmental problems.

In the code, a reusable bag is defined as “a bag that is specifically intended for multiple reuse and is made of cloth, fiber, or other machine washable fabric that is at least 2.25 mils thick and capable of carrying a minimum of 18 pounds with at least 75 uses per bag.”


What can I do to encourage customers to bring their own bags?
Some stores are giving customers incentives to bringing reusable bags—for example, putting customers in drawings for gift cards if they bring their own bags, or providing them with rewards or giveaways for bringing bags.

Some stores also have large reminder signs on doors or windows so customers don’t forget their bags in their cards.

You can find a number of helpful resources for communications in our Communications Toolkit.


What can I do if customers forget their reusable bags?
Under our ordinance, you could provide paper bags. Our ordinance defines permissible bags as bags that are 100 percent recyclable and made from at least 40 percent recycled content.

You could also allow customers to take your leftover cardboard boxes.

Retailers also can sell of giveaway reusable tote bags to consumers.

Cuyahoga County and its partners are also planning a variety of bag giveaways beginning in mid-January. Please check back for further information.


Are there exemptions?
Yes. We encourage retailers to review our rules because there are limited exemptions.

For example, retailers who provide curbside pickup can place items in plastic.

Restaurants and bakeries have broad exemptions.

There are also limited exemptions—for example, for drycleaners who use bags for returned items and pharmacists dispensing prescription drugs.

Also, please note that stores that aren’t allowed to provide plastic bags at the checkout still can make plastic bags available within their stores for certain products. For example, plastic bags are still permitted for prepared foods, bakery items, flowers and bulk items like meats, produce and deli foods.

The ban does not address packaged single-use plastic bags, such as food storage bags, trash bags and pet waste bags.


Are there penalties for violating the ban?
Yes. Our code says stores may receive a written warning on first violation. If they don’t become compliant, they could be fined $100 for a first violation and $500 for a subsequent violation.

If you sell plastic bags after Jan. 1, 2020, you may receive a reminder from the Department of Consumer Affairs. But official warnings don’t start until after the grace period ends July 1, 2020.

If you encounter a problem in making the changeover or if you have questions about the legislation, please contact the Department of Consumer Affairs.


Am I required to charge fees for paper bags?
The ordinance is silent on fees. Stores can charge fees for paper bags if they choose—or not. It’s up to you.


My store has plastic bags in the produce, deli and prepared foods section. Are those illegal under the ban?
No. The bag ban exempts, or allows exceptions for, plastic bags used for bulk items (like fruits, veggies and flowers) and prepared food. That means plastic bags, used for those purposes, are still legal for stores to provide to customers.


I am a retailer in Cleveland. How does this affect me?
Cleveland passed legislation to exempt the city from the plastic bag ban and delay enforcement until July 1.

I am a resident of Cuyahoga County. How does this affect me?
Residents and shoppers in Cuyahoga County will not receive plastic bags from retailers at checkout. You are encouraged to bring your own reusable bags with you when shopping. If you forget to bring your own reusable bags, many stores will either provide recyclable paper bags for free or a small fee or will sell reusable bags for purchase.


I tend to forget to bring reusable bags. How can I remember?
Here are just a few ways to help remember to bring reusable bags with you when shopping:

 

  • Put a note to “bring reusable bags!” at the top of your grocery list
  • Keep the reusable bags in your car or by your garage door so you see them right when you leave
  • Keep a lightweight reusable bag in your backpack, purse or glove compartment for impulse buys

Also, ask your store to post reminders on doors so you don’t have to make a trip back to the parking lot after your cart is full.

After you get used to carrying reusable totes, it will become second nature.


Does this mean I won’t be able to buy trash bags or plastic food storage bags (i.e. Ziploc bags)?
No. The County’s ban targets single-use plastic bags provided to consumers at the checkout. You will still be able to purchase prepackaged packages of trash bags, food storage bags and other types of packaged plastic bags at stores.

You will also still be able to purchase packaged plastic bags specially made for disposing of diapers or dog waste or for lining small trash cans. They are not affected by the ban.


Am I allowed to use plastic bags that I already have?
Yes. While the legislation aims to change the mindset around using plastic bags and encouraging shoppers to adopt the more sustainable practice of using and bringing reusable bags when shopping, shoppers are free to use plastic bags they already had before the ban began. If you have a stockpile of bags on hand, it’s better to reuse them as much as you can before throwing them away.


Is there any penalty against me for using plastic bags?
No. Only retailers are fined for not complying with the plastic bag ban after the grace period ends July 1.


How do I file a complaint after July 1, 2020?
You can file a complaint after July 1, 2020, by using the complaint form on the Consumer Affairs website. If you are not comfortable using a web form, you can call the Department of Consumer Affairs at 216-443-7035.


I don’t think the ban goes far enough. What can I do to reduce the use of plastics throughout my home?
Try using reusable water bottles rather than bottled water. Pack sandwiches in wax paper rather than plastic. Skip plastic forks and carry washable, reusable tableware in your lunchbox.

For more information on sustainable practices, visit the Sustainability Department website.

For more information on recycling, visit the Solid Waste District website.