NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environmental Effects of the Single Use Bag

June 10, 2015

The Single Use Bag Ordinance for the City of Austin, which went into effect over two years ago, has had a variety of responses; from the Texas Retailers Association filing a lawsuit (later withdrawn), to consumers both praising and forsaking the effort, and finally, the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, issuing an opinion on his perspective of the legality of such ordinances, during the time he was Attorney General.  

While most citizens find the bag ordinance to be beneficial to the environment, at least in terms of the reduction of litter, the results do not indicate a clear success. Indeed, the amount of single use plastic bags has been reduced, both in count and by weight. However, in their place, the larger 4-mil bags have replaced them as the go to standard when the reusable bag is left at home. This reusable plastic bag, along with the paper bag, has a very high carbon footprint compared to the single use bag.

The City of Austin's outer limit is an amorphous shape due to annexing throughout the years. As a result:

  • There are areas of Austin some residents are surprised to learn belong to the city. One such area is located in the north Austin, which is surrounded by the towns of Wells Branch and Pflugerville. Within this area, there is an HEB grocery, which is under the Single Use Bag Ordinance.
  • However, outside of Austin, in the adjacent towns, there are other larger grocery stores, which do not need to comply with the ordinance. The close proximity of the other grocery stores has caused the HEB to lose between $60,000 and $70,000 per week in revenue.

Source: Aaron Waters, "Environmental Effects of the Single Use Bag Ordinance in Austin, Texas," Austin Resource Recovery, June 10, 2015. 


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