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FAQ: What you need to know about Cincinnati's plastic bag ban

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Posted at 2:19 PM, Sep 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-10 20:01:42-04

CINCINNATI — City Council voted Thursday to ban single-use plastic bags for many businesses in the city of Cincinnati, effective in January 2021.

The new ordinance passed with a vote of 7-1. Councilmember Betsy Sundermann was the lone dissenter.

When it goes into effect, restaurants and “food-service establishments” — a broad term that, in the ordinance, includes grocery stores, corner stores and any other business that sells food in a permanent location — will be prohibited from bagging customers’ items in single-use plastic bags.

FROM YESTERDAY: Plastic bags could soon be banned in Cincinnati

Instead, customers will be allowed to bring their own bags from home or purchase a reusable paper, plastic or cloth bag from the store.

Here’s what you need to know.

Why this issue? Why does Council care?

Cutting down on single-use plastics is a nationwide issue that’s propelled large companies, including Kroger and Starbucks, to begin phasing out plastic bags and to reduce their use of plastic straws, too. Single-use plastics are hard to recycle and can easily become a danger to wildlife, particularly in the ocean.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States produces millions of tons of plastic bag waste each year. Most bags go to landfills, where they may take hundreds of years to biodegrade; fewer than 10% are recycled.

"We are far from the first city that's done this," said Councilmember Chris Seelbach during Thursday's vote. "Over 350 cities have done this."

The anti-plastic-ban website Bag the Ban tracks the specific ordinances in cities that have adopted a full or partial ban.

Does this affect every business in town?

No, just restaurants and “food-service establishments.” The ordinance defines a food-service establishment as “a commercial establishment located within the city in a permanent building, operating year-round, that sells foodstuffs, meats, produce, dairy products or perishable foods meant to be consumed off the premises where they are sold” — a definition that could include grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacy-groceries such as Walgreens, butcher shops, candy stores and more.

Are any “food-service businesses” exempt?

Vendors who sell food at farmers’ markets and other temporary events are not required to follow the ordinance.

How much will a reusable bag cost me if I don’t bring my own?

The ordinance requires businesses to charge at least 5 cents per bag. However, each individual business can choose to set the price point higher, and money earned from the reusable bag charge will go toward the business, not to the city of Cincinnati.

This element of the ordinance was the cornerstone of Sundermann's no-vote, she said. Although some low-income people will not have to pay for bags — more on that below — she worried that the cost of buying them would create a financial hardship for small business owners.

"The businesses are still required to give them reusable bags, so that will put extra burden on small business owners in low-income communities," she said.

What if I can’t afford it?

Customers who are paying for their purchase with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, which are used to distribute food stamps and other government aid, do not have to pay for their bags.

Everyone else is required to pay or bring a bag from home.

How is Council going to enforce this new rule?

Any business that violates the ordinance by continuing to use single-use plastic bags in 2021 can be fined $100 per day until it complies.