Bag Confusion!

Entering into the New Year there are almost 200 regulations in place across the United States that define what type of “bag” can be used in what type of “store” location. Over 100 of these regulations are in the state of California alone.

The confusion for retailers, packaging providers, packaging manufacturers and the general public is that each regulation is different. Merriam-Webster defines a “bag” as a container made of a material (such as paper, plastic, or cloth) that opens at the top and is used for holding or carrying things. Webster defines a “store” as a building or room where things are sold. Sounds simple, right? However, while looking at all these regulations one would find definitions of:

  • checkout bags,
  • paper vs plastic,
  • produce and product bags,
  • single use carry-out,
  • reusable bag,
  • recyclable,
  • store, retailer, food and eating establishments

and the list goes on.

How do you know when, where and what kind of bags can be used?

The best advice…make sure you check the regulation(s) in your area to understand what the requirements are. Bags that may be exempted in a city or county are usually called out in one of three places in an ordinance:

  1. Definition section – usually where they define a single use carry bag or checkout bag.
  2. Requirement section – the section immediately following the definitions that tells what is prohibited and where. This section sometimes calls out exemptions.
  3. Exemption Section – usually following the requirement section.


In many of the regulations there are exceptions for plastic bags used for nonprofit charities, news paper bags, dry cleaning bags and produce or product bags. It is also good to know how a store is defined. Some regulations only target grocery stores while others include retailers and food establishments.

Make sure to keep checking our website for updates on single use bag legislation that is pending or being implemented. Our retail packaging specialists stay on top of the ever changing market conditions. Let us help you navigate bag legislation in the municipalities you sell into and select the best packaging for your stores. We hope that you will contact us by phone at 888-429-5673 or via email at baglaws@swalter.com

Disclaimer: The information on this website is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for individual advice regarding your specific situation. S. Walter Packaging does not warrant the accuracy, adequacy or completeness of the information and materials contained in this site or the compliance with any particular federal, state or local laws and expressly disclaims liability for any errors or omissions in the information and materials.