On December 14, 2018, a new bag ordinance in Boston will require all retail stores to stop providing free plastic bags. Given this, retailers in the area should prepare by purchasing appropriate bags and posting a notice at checkout.

This is part of the growing push for consumers to bring reusable bags when shopping. The purpose of the ordinance is to reduce the use of disposable checkout bags, curb litter on the streets, protect marine environment and waterways, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste, and to promote the use of reusable bags in Boston.

Who Does this Impact?

The ordinance applies to any person or entity that sells or provides merchandise, goods, or materials directly to a customer, whether for profit. This includes restaurants, pharmacies, convenience and grocery stores, liquor stores, seasonal and temporary businesses, jewelry stores, and household goods stores. The ordinance does not apply to bazaars or festivals operated by non-profit organizations or religious institutions. Produce bags, laundry and dry-cleaner bags, newspaper bags, and bags used to wrap meat or frozen foods also are excluded from the ordinance.

Additionally, retailers may be exempt from the ordinance for a period of one year if they can establish undue hardship. Examples of such hardship may include (a) a lack of reasonable alternatives to bags that are not recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags, or reusable bags; (b) enforcement would be a violation of a legally protected right; or (c) the retailer requires additional time to use existing inventory of single-use plastic checkout bags. In these cases, the retailer must submit monthly reports on inventory reduction and the amount of remaining stock to take advantage of this exemption.

What Must Retailers Do?

Retailers covered by the ordinance must provide only reusable bags, recyclable paper bags, or compostable plastic bags to customers at checkout. Retailers must sell these bags for a minimum of $0.05 per bag, which is to be kept by the retailer to cover the costs of the bags. This cost must be posted within five feet of the checkout location and must be identified separately on a customer’s receipt as the “checkout bag charge.”

The Boston Department of Weights and Measures will be performing inspections on a rolling basis depending on store size — starting on December 14, 2018 for retail establishments with minimum of 20,000 square feet, starting on April 1, 2019 for retail establishments with a minimum of 10,000 square feet, and starting on July 1, 2019 for retail establishments with less than 10,000 square feet. Warning notices will be issued for first time violations. Thereafter, monetary fines, not to exceed $100.00 per violation, will apply for noncompliance.

Retailers in Boston should be preparing themselves for this ordinance. Purchasing appropriate bags, reviewing and updating policies, and training staff is of utmost importance.