Businesses, Customers Get Ready for Austin's Bag Ordinance

Feb 11, 2013

Austin’s Bag Ordinance goes into effect soon. Starting March 1, the majority of Austin businesses will stop providing single-use paper and plastic bags. That’s because the City of Austin has a goal of zero waste by the year 2040. This measure is among the first steps toward that goal. Businesses and customers alike are already making some adjustments.

Aiden Cohen struggles with the curse of the suburban shopper: “I have a bunch of reusable bags in my trunk,” says Cohen, “but I don’t always bring them into the place where I’m doing my shopping.” Cohen is not only a shopper; he’s also with Austin Resource Recovery, the agency in charge of promoting the city’s bag ordinance. Right now, if you forget your reusable bag, it’s not a big deal. But three weeks from now, you’ll probably have to pay for bags. Paper and plastic bags will come with handles and they’ll be thick enough to be used 100 times. The ordinance makes businesses responsible for reminding customers with signs posted inside by the check out counter and outside at the parking lot or by the door.

Wal-Mart cashiers are going through an assortment of left-over bags until inventories are depleted before the bag ordinance takes effect March 1.
Credit Joy Diaz

Aiden Cohen explains there are non-profits that are exempt from the bag ordinance and so are some businesses.

“The three that I think about that are kind of the biggest exemptions are: the dry-cleaning bags, the produce aisle bags and restaurant bags,” says Cohen.

Supermarkets will continue offering single-use bags for meats and bulk items. But they’re transforming their checkout lanes. For instance, Wal-Mart cashiers now bag purchases in whatever bag they still have in store. They started phasing out their bag inventory earlier this month. Target stores now offer a variety of cloth bags. And local H-E-Bs will be giving away reusable bags Feb. 16.

Convenience store owner Ken Slack has yet to find a bag supplier. But he says he isn’t worried.

"There will be a learning curve, for certain,” Slack says “but it’s not going to be as difficult to implement as I first imagined.”

Non-compliant businesses will face a Class C misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $2,000.