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Reducing plastic bags in the City of Boston

On December 14, 2018, the City's plastic bag ordinance went into effect.

Learn more about what the ordinance means for you below.

 

COVID-19 updates for the ordinance

On March 24, Mayor Walsh put in place a temporary executive order that exempts all establishments from the bag ordinance. The order will stay in place until September 30, 2020, assuming no major change in information or circumstances. 

On October 1, all provisions of the ordinance will come back into effect.

You can learn more about what the extension of the temporary executive order means for you in our table.

Milestone Temporary Executive Order
(through September 30)
Ordinance
(Beginning October 1)
Fee collection: 5 cents or more Not required Required
Supply compliant bags:
reusable, recyclable, compostable
Not required Required
Supply single-use plastic bags Not required Prohibited
Customers using reusable bags Allowed Allowed

Basics of the Plastic Bag Ordinance

Top three things to Keep in mind:
  1. Stores can only give reusable bags, recyclable paper bags, or compostable checkout bags to customers.
  2. Boston retailers can no longer stock single-use plastic bags with handles.
  3. Retailers have to sell any bag with handles for at least 5 cents per bag. The retailer keeps the charge.

Download register signs

REUSABLE BAG SIGN
Residents in Boston are now able to use reusable bags if they would like to.  To help communicate this update to businesses and customers you can download this sign to display at your retail establishment.

FEE CHARGE SIGN
The bag ordinance policy requires a sign posted within five feet of the checkout location, telling customers that they'll have to pay for a bag if they want one. You can download signs in eight different languages.

How to apply for an exemption

Your business can file for a temporary exemption if you qualify for an undue hardship. Follow the link below to see if you qualify, and how to apply:

Exemption information

Your business only qualifies for an exemption if: 
  • You feel like there are no reasonable alternatives to plastic bags that your business could use and provide to customers.
  • Compliance with the ordinance would deprive you of a legally protected right.
  • You cannot use up all of your existing inventory of plastic bags before December 14. You need more time to get rid of your plastic bags before switching to compliant paper and compostable bags.

Common questions

Questions?

Yes, all bags at restaurants given to customers are subject to the guidelines in the ordinance. They have to be either recycled paper, compostable, or reusable. 

No, they are not. However, we encourage retailers to still search for environmentally friendly bags without handles.

Retailers are NOT required to provide any bags. They can rely on their customers to bring their own bag. 

No, you can file for an exemption due to existing inventory. You will need to mail monthly update reports to prove your inventory is decreasing. Please don’t throw out your existing plastic bags!

We are working on getting the basics of the ordinance and our fliers translated into:

  • Cape Verdean Creole
  • Haitian Creole
  • Spanish
  • Traditional Chinese, and
  • Vietnamese.

Yes.

Many retailers sell compliant bags. We created a list of bag suppliers.

Love the Ordinance and want to help?

That's great! We're so glad you'd like to help.  Right now, there are two great ways to volunteer:

  1. Tell us about retailers still giving out single-use plastic bags. It's helpful for us to know so we can give them the information they need to be compliant. 
  2. Distribute information to small businesses in your neighborhoodBoston is a big place with more than 20,000 retailers. We want them to have the information they need!

Email victoria.phillips@boston.gov to get the info packet and volunteer directions.