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Understanding the plastic bag ordinance

We have steps for both retailers and consumers. The City's transition away from plastic bags began December 14, 2018.

Last updated:
Step
1

Learn the basics as a retailer

Retailers in Boston can only give reusable bags, recyclable paper bags, or compostable bags with handles to customers. They can no longer stock plastic bags with handles.

You can read the official ordinance online. We've also translated the basics of how to be compliant with the bag ordinance into eight languages:

Step
2

Use your existing inventory of single-use plastic bags

The plastic bag reduction ordinance allows retailers to use up their existing inventory of single-use plastic bags. However, to do this, retailers must fill out an exemption form and send in monthly documentation of their inventory to show a decrease.

We created a how-guide page for filing for an exemption:

How to file for an exemption

Step
3

Buy and sell compostable, paper, and reusable bags

For customers who forget to bring their own bag, stores can only give reusable bags, recyclable paper bags, and compostable bags with handles to customers. Stores can no longer stock plastic bags with handles.

We created a helpful bag checklist to make sure you're buying compliant bags. Compliant handled bags include:

Paper bags
  • Must be 100% recyclable
  • Must be made from at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled material
  • Must say "100% recyclable" and "made from ___% post-consumer recycled material" on the outside of the bag
Compostable bags 
  • Must say compostable on outside of bag
  • Certified to the ASTM D6400 standard (and say so on the outside of the bag)
Reusable bags
  • Must have 3.0 millimeters in thickness for entire bag
  • Advertised and sold as reusable bags

If you're not sure where to buy compliant bags, we created a list of bag suppliers.

Step
4

Advertise cost of bags near your registers

Retailers must sell any bag with handles for at least 5 cents per bag. The retailer keeps the charge, which is subject to Massachusetts sales tax.  Remember, the ordinance only applies to bags with handles.

To help customers, make sure your store has signs within five feet of registers that notify customers that they'll have to pay for bags. Encourage them to bring their own bag to avoid the cost!

You can make your own signs and post them, but you can also download signs we created:

Download and Print Register Signs

Step
5

Print price of bags on receipts

The cost of each bag much be printed or written on your customers' receipts as a "checkout bag charge."

  • If your bags cost five cents, make sure to print the checkout bag charge as five cents per bag on the receipt. If your bags cost more than five cents, print that amount on your receipt.
  • Can't change the way your register prints receipts? It's OK to write "checkout bag charge" and the price per bag on the receipt with pen. As long as there is a record of the sale of bags to your customers, you are compliant. 
Step
1

Learn the basics as a customer

Retailers in Boston can only give reusable bags, recyclable paper bags, or compostable bags with handles to customers. They can no longer stock plastic bags with handles.

You can read the official ordinance online. We've also translated the basics of how to be compliant with the bag ordinance into eight languages:

Step
2

What to expect at Boston stores

Instead of single-use plastic bags at stores, you'll be able to purchase a recyclable paper bag, compostable bag, or a reusable bag for a minimum of 5 cents per bag. 

What you should see at stores:
  • A sign posted within five feet of the register that tells you about the ordinance and the new charge for bags. 
  • The bag charge printed on your receipt as "checkout bag charge" so that you have a record of your payment for bags.

Remember, you can always bring your own bag to avoid the cost!

Step
3

Remember to bring your own bag

If you have trouble remembering to bring your own bag, here are some tips:

  • Store your reusable bags in your kitchen cabinet, near the front door, in the center console of your car, in your purse or briefcase, or anywhere else you think you'll remember them best.
  • Write "bags" at the top of your grocery list before you go shopping. 
  • Set a reminder on your phone to bring your bags if you intend to shop. 
  • Make bags a part of your daily checklist. Phone, wallet, keys, bags!
Step
4

Get involved

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:

  • 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. 
  • 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.

Need to Know:

The City's plastic bag ordinance went into effect on December 14, 2018. You can learn more about the plastic bag ordinance online.


checklist for retailers

When our inspectors check your retail store, they'll inspect for all of the things mentioned on this page. Make sure that you complete every step. We created a helpful checklist of what inspectors will look for.

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