News Release News Release The City of Palo Alto
Communications Department
250 Hamilton Ave
Palo Alto, CA 94301


PRESS RELEASE 06/28/2013
Subject :

Palo Alto Aims to Increase Reusable Bags, Reduce Plastic Bags
Contact : Julie Weiss, Environmental Specialist    650-329-2117
Palo Alto, CA – The City of Palo Alto's expanded Disposable Bag Ordinance is designed to curb single-use plastic bags and goes into effect on July 1, 2013 at all retail establishments.  

Palo Alto’s goal is to reduce both plastic litter and the resources associated with plastic and paper bag manufacture and use. Retail establishments will no longer be allowed to distribute single-use plastic checkout bags and must charge a minimum of ten cents for reusable or paper bags. The charge must be shown on customer receipts and paper and reusable bags must meet certain specifications. The ordinance applies to all retailers including grocery stores. Related requirements for food service establishments such as restaurants, delis and food carts will take effect on November 1, 2013. Requirements for food service establishments will not include a fee for paper, and plastic bags can still be used around individual containers of soups or stews to avoid spilling.

"This expanded ordinance is the next step in eliminating plastic bags in our creeks and San Francisco Bay," said Public Works Assistant Director Phil Bobel. Palo Alto estimates it will eliminate 20 million single-use plastic and paper bags annually. Palo Alto was an early adopter of single-use bag controls and adopted an initial ordinance in 2009. It prohibited plastic bags at large grocery stores, was developed in cooperation with retailers, and included extensive outreach. While the number of customers bringing their own reusable bags has increased, the impact of plastic bags in creeks and Bay has continued.   

“Last year we found about 350 bags during two local creek clean up events and a separate one-month tally of bags found in the lower watershed. In addition, local photographers have also provided staff with photos of birds impacted at the Baylands. So we’re trying to address this global problem at a local level,” said Julie Weiss, the City’s project manager for the ordinance. Additionally, local cities are required by the storm water Municipal Regional Permit to reduce trash found along creeks and San Francisco shore by 100 percent by 2022. Plastics account for an alarming 60 percent of the litter found in local creeks and a recent Scripps Institution of Oceanography study reports that plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean grew a hundredfold over the past four decades.

As the ordinance goes into effect, the City reminds the community to remember to bring their own bags by keeping reusable bags by the door, in their cars or near keys. Keep foldable bags in pockets, backpacks and purses. For answers to frequently asked questions, to read the complete ordinance, or to order a free static cling reminder sticker for the inside of a car window, visit or call 650-329-2117.