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Yes, Austin Survived Its First Bag Ban Weekend (Update)

Tyler Pratt for KUT News

Update: Austin appears to have survived its first weekend without single-use plastic bags. But, judging from Twitter, many are still getting used to the change. 

There’s other questions still out there as well:

Yes – the single-use bag ordinance applies to all Austin retailers. 

However, as the following tweet points out, some sellers are taking advantage of the “handles” proviso in the ordinance:

Have you been surprised by the implementation of Austin’s bag ban, or noticed unexpected changes? Leave a comment below.

Original Post (March 1, 2:25 p.m.): Since today marks the first day of Austin’s Single-Use Bag ordinance, shoppers are likely to see all sorts of new bags as they checkout, or even wonder, “Where can I get that bag?”

  • Recap: What is Austin’s Single-Use Bag Ordinance, aka the Bag Ban?

364 days ago, Austin City Council approved an ordinance that prohibited many businesses within city limits from providing paper or plastic single-use bags to customers, beginning March 1.
Shoppers are encouraged to bring in their own reusable bags. There are plenty of exceptions: Some stores may continue selling single use bags, but will charge a fee. Some businesses can apply for a hardship waiver. And single use bags are still allowed for certain non-profits and businesses like dry-cleaners and restaurants.

If this news leaves you in a panic, here is a bag ban breakdown:

According to the city, at the checkout, businesses are required to provide:

  • Plastic bags: 4 millimeters in thickness or greater with handles
  • Paper bags: made of 40% recycled content with handles
  • Cloth or another type of reusable bag made out of durable materials

Businesses may charge for their bags, but customers may bring their own. And there are many options.
(Remember: Wash your bag from time to time. Re-usable bags can be E.Coli carriers)

  • The Free Bag:

Any bags you have in your home or car. Canvas, knitted, or insulated bags are great. Perhaps you’ve been stockpiling the reusable bags stores have been giving out over the last few months. Leftover swag bags from old SXSW/ACL/F1 events should suffice.

  • The 25¢-$10 Bag:

As mentioned earlier, businesses may charge for bags. The heavier plastic bags businesses are providing should cost less than dollar. HEB’s checkout backs cost 25¢.  Basic totes around grocery stores usually cost somewhere around the $1 to $10 range. Keep Austin Beautiful offers a $1 bag that they say are available at Austin retailers like Central Market, HEB, Randalls, Wal-Mart and Whole Foods Market.

  • The Charity Bag:

Many businesses offer charity-inspired bags. RED offers a range of bags and products that go towards supporting the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

Here in Austin, The Institute for Community Development (ICD) at The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work has collaborated with Trashy Bags, a Ghanaian NGO, and theMcCombs School of Business to introduce the "Smart Bag," which helps people in Ghana.

Says Dr. Dorie Gilbert, ICD Director:

“As a study-abroad course project, students develop small enterprise teams of local Ghanaians to produce the bags creating employment to youth and people living with HIV/AIDS.  Students then work with retailers to market the new eco-friendly bags in Austin.”

The bags should be available in the coming months at local retailers.

  • Expensive Totes for Expensive Taste:

For those who insist on the best. Many designers offer their take on the reusable bag. This $128.25 bag from Forestbound may fit that need.

And there you have it. It will likely take a few “D’oh!” moments before we all get in the habit of bringing our re-usable bags to the store. But it’s part of what the city calls its plan to make Austin a zero waste city by 2040.

(A note for Austin businesses: in Seattle, retailers have found that instances of shoplifting have increased since a citywide bag ban went into effect there in July.)

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