Choose to Reuse Single Use Carry Out Bags

Bring Your Own Bag Monterey Switches to Reusable Bags

Effective January 1, 2013, the cost for paper bags at all retail facilities in the City of Monterey will increase from 10 cents per bag to 25 cents per bag.

See a comprehensive list of FAQ Questions and Answers below for both shoppers and retailers.

Details on the ordinance
FAQ for Shoppers

1.   Why did the City ban single- use carry out bags?

Lightweight plastic carryout bags are commonly found in litter and escape into our waterways where they remain as a pollutant forever. Fish and other marine animals commonly mistake pieces of plastic and bags for food. When plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces, those microscopic particles may also be consumed by small animals in the oceans and enter the food chain. Because of plastic’s persistence in the environment, the City believes the use of throw-away plastic products should be minimized.

2.   Why not just recycle plastic carryout bags?

After years in use, even in cities like Monterey that have tried to recycle throw-away plastic bags, recycling hasn’t caught on. Less than 5 percent of single-use plastic carryout bags get recycled in Monterey.

3.   What about bags for vegetables and meat in stores and other plastic bags like newspaper and dry cleaning bags? Are those also banned?

No. Bags used by customers inside stores to package bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, candy or small hardware items are still allowed, as are bags to wrap frozen foods, ice cream, meat or fish, flowers and other items where dampness is a problem. Newspaper and dry-cleaning bags are still OK, too, and of course you can still purchase packages of garbage bags, yard waste bags and bags for pet waste.

4.   Can I still recycle other plastic bags?

Yes, you may still get newspaper and dry-cleaning bags and plastic bags used for packaging new electronic products. They can all be recycled. Bundle them in one bag, tie it shut, and put it in your recycling cart. Do not recycle vegetable bags from the grocery store or any others, such as ziplock bags, used for food. Food residue and moisture makes them unrecyclable.

Another caution: Do not recycle plastic-like film bags marked “biodegradable” or compostable. They are made of organic material which contaminates plastic recycling and should go in your Food and Yard Waste cart.

5.   What should I do with the paper shopping bags I get?

Reuse them a few times if you can, donate clean ones to your neighborhood food bank or recycle them. Paper bags with food or grease on them cannot be recycled and must be placed in your trash bin.

6.   Why not use biodegradable or compostable bags?

Biodegradable and compostable bags are not meant to be carryout (shopping) bags. They’re specifically designed as liners for kitchen food waste containers.

Also, there are some plastic film or composite-material bags on the market that claim to be “biodegradable” but are just “greenwashing.” Some merchants mistakenly use or sell these. To make sure you’ve got the right ones for your kitchen container, look for this logo: BPI Logo

7.   When recycled, what are paper and plastic bags used for?

 Recycled brown (kraft) paper bags sorted from the stream of recyclables at the Monterey City Disposal Service processing facility are often made into cardboard. Some bags pass through and end up in the bales of mixed paper which is commonly made into the middle layer of corrugated cardboard, newsprint, or paperboard, typically the gray paper liner in cereal and cracker boxes.

Some of the plastic film recycled here, including plastic bags, is made into plastic lumber or wood-plastic composite lumber (commonly used for decking), pipe, garden edging, or shipping corner boards. Other plastic film is shipped to Asia where it is made into a number of consumer products, component parts or black plastic bags. The largest quantity of recyclable plastic film is recovered from commercial and industrial sources, not consumer carryout bags, which are not needed to maintain viable plastic film recycling markets.

8.   Where can I get reusable shopping bags?

Most grocery and drug stores already sell reusable bags for about a dollar or less. Watch for store promotions as the ban deadline of July 1 gets closer. Let the 25 cent charge for paper bags be a reminder to shop with your reusable bags and you’ll save money in the long run.

9.   How can I tell the City about stores using plastic bags after July 1, 2012?

A call to Monterey’s Environmental Programs line, (831) 646-5662, will forward store names to staff who will visit the location. Remember, strong plastic bags (2.25 mm thick or greater) are considered reusable and some stores such as department stores and book stores will be using them. You may also call this number if you see a store not charging for large, recyclable paper bags. (No charge is required for small paper bags.)

10.   What if I use plastic bags for pet waste?

Pet ownership comes with responsibility and costs, including being able to provide for an clean up after one's pet. There are several products available, and are many times provided by the City, that are small bags or mitts for cleaning up after your pet.

11.   What if I use plastic bags for garbage?

This may be a good additional use of a plastic bag, but not everyone uses them for household garbage. The reality is that the banned plastic bags were manufactured for the purpose of carrying waste out of a store and then being disposed of. Instead of using these bags, there are many options for garbage bags on the market, even down to the roughly 3 gallon size of a plastic grocery bag. There are even biodegradeable garbage bag options available for those willing to take an extra step for environmental stewardship.
Bag Your Bag & Tie
Bag Your Bag & Tie
Plastic bags are recyclable in the City of Monterey! Place clean and dry filmy plastic shopping bags, clean sandwich & vegetable bags, shrink wrap and bubble wrap into ONE bag and tie at the top. Place the tied bag in your BLUE recycling bin.
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FAQ for Retailers

1.   Are there any exceptions?

Yes. Public eating establishments, defined as restaurants, take-out food establishments, or any other business that receives 90% or more of its revenue from the sale of food; Nonprofit charitable re-users, that re-uses and recycles donated goods or materials and receives more than 50% of its revenues from the handling and sale of those donated goods or materials. 

2.   What should retailers do if they have large stocks of plastic bags that will last beyond the effective date?

Chain stores with outlets outside of Monterey can ship their bag inventory to those outlets. Smaller stores may use up their stock for the month of July 2012. Past that time, those retailers may consider donating their remaining stock to non-profit reuse stores or restaurants.

3.   What about food vending trucks, farmers markets, street fairs and other events?

This Ordinance 3471 specifically includes all these activities among the kinds of “retail establishments” where the use of lightweight plastic carryout bags is banned. Vendors at farmers’ markets may use small bags of any type for vegetables and meat and put these in a paper carryout bag or a customer’s reusable bag.

4.   Do I have to charge my customers for all paper bags?

No. Stores (and vendors of all kinds including those at farmers’ markets) are required to charge only for larger bags such as typical grocery store carryout bags – technically a bag larger than 882 cubic inches, known as one-eighth barrel in the grocery trade. As a rule of thumb, if a bag has a flat bottom greater than 6 inches by 10 inches, you’ll need to charge for it.

5.   What about smaller paper bags?

Stores are not required to charge for smaller paper bags but they may at their discretion.

6.   Do paper bags have to be 100% recyclable?

Yes. Paper is 100% recyclable and is reusable in most cases.

7.   For those labels are there any requirements for ink color or type size?


8.   Does the 40% recycled content have to be post-consumer or can it be industrial?

The large bags must contain 40% post-consumer recycled fiber content.

9.   Is this transaction taxable?


10.   What about hanging garment bags?

Dry cleaner bags are exempt and garment bags provided by retailers would fall under this exemption.

11.   Is there a requirement for the heavy duty plastic bags to have recycled content?

No, plastic bags that are allowed are not required to have recycled content, though the City encourages the use of recycled content products whenever possible.

12.   Why are to-go food vendors allowed to use plastic bags?

There is a problem with spillage, especially of soups, that this avoids. However, the City encourages restaurants to use paper bags whenever possible.

13.   If restaurants are selling items other than foods, are the bags they use still exempt?

No. If the items being purchased are not prepared food which can leak or be spilled (i.e., cook books, t-shirts, bottled salad dressing, etc.), lightweight single-use plastic carryout bags may not be used.

14.   Are grocers' deli counters exempt like restaurants with to-go food?

Yes, prepared on-site foods such as roasted chicken and soups can be placed in protective plastic bags at the deli counter as needed to prevent leaks or spills. These restaurants must receive 90% or more of its revenue from the sale of food.

15.   What about bakery goods?

Bags of any kind may be used for individual bakery goods, loaves of bread and other pastries. They are exempt as “in-store” packaging like vegetable and bulk food bags and bags for meat, ice cream and flowers where moisture would be a problem.

16.   Are restaurants, which can still use lightweight plastic bags for to-go food orders, prohibited from using compostable bags for this purpose?

Technically, no; however, the City’s ordinance bans the use of “biodegradable” or compostable bags as carryout bags, and Monterey urges restaurants to follow suit. Compostable bags have been developed to line kitchen food waste containers. Shoppers who receive “biodegradable” or compostable bags as shopping bags are likely by mistake to recycle them with regular plastic bags (newspaper, dry cleaning, packaging, etc.) which can prevent successful remanufacture of the plastic. As little as ½ of 1 percent of compostable film bags can make a whole bale of petro-plastic film bags unrecyclable, according to the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers.

17.   Which zip codes does this ordinance apply?

The ordinance applies only within the City limits of Monterey. Retail businesses within the City will have a City of Monterey business license and the plastic bag ban applies to them.

18.   Are there any restrictions on customers bringing back bags?

No. Customers who re-use bags should benefit from their re-use efforts.

19.   If my store collects plastic bags from customers for recycling, can I use the good ones for carryout bags.

No. Customers may bring in and reuse any bag of their own, subject to the policy of the store. However, plastic bags collected from customers cannot be given out to other customers as carryout bags. They must be recycled.

20.   How will this be enforced?

Monterey has always taken an educational approach regarding regulations. If citizens call and complain, Monterey will send outreach staff to talk to the retailers about the ordinance and explain what’s needed to comply. If it becomes clear a retailer is intentionally not complying they may be fined. The fines are $200 - $1,000.

21.   What is the plan for informing retailers?

A 700-piece mass mailing has been sent out to reach all retail outlets listed in the city’s database. The AMP Channel and other media will also reach retailers and their employees.

22.   During the transition is Monterey going to offer any promotional assistance?

Retailers can download “Point-of-Sale/Point-of-Purchase” artwork. This will quickly tell customers what is required, indicating that the bag ban is a City regulation and not a policy of the individual retailer.

23.   What is the purpose or end result of this legislation?

The fundamental goal is to reduce the use of throw-away plastic products, particularly lightweight plastic bags which are a litter problem and escape into our waterways and oceans where they are harmful to animals and may enter the food chain as they degrade into smaller and smaller – but still plastic – pieces. Paper, of course, is organic and does not present similar problems. But reducing waste means cutting down on the use of paper bags, too. That’s why the City urges all retailers to encourage their customers to shop with reusable bags.

24.   Aren't the non-woven polypropylene bags sold as reusable bags by many retailers as much of a problem as the lightweight through away bags they are replacing?

No. Once these bags have been reused a couple dozen times their impact is less than that of the many more lightweight plastic bags they’ve replaced. They carry from two to three times as much as typical throwaway plastic bags which often need to be doubled for strength. That’s not a problem for the reusable bags. They are also recyclable. Monterey accepts these types of bags and other polypropylene products in curbside recycling bins and hopes people will recycle them. The value of recycled polypropylene is increasing.

25.   Are there any limitations on lamination?

No, this is not regulated.

26.   Are there any restrictions on stores, restaurants or bakeries choosing to charge a fee on all bags?

No, there are no requirements. This decision is up to the business.

27.   What about low-income customers for whom a bunch of 25-cent bags can mean real money?

Grocery stores may not add the 25-cent pass-though charge for paper bags to any sale made to a customer using vouchers or an electronic benefits card issued under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and should include the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) support programs, or the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “Food Stamps,” also known as Basic Food). Paper or reusable bags may be offered to them at no charge.

28.   Do stores have to keep track of how many paper bags they sell?

Yes. Records must be kept for one year for all paper bags for which a charge is required.

29.   Does the 40% recycled content rule apply to all paper bags?

No. It applies only to the large bags for which a charge is required. There is no post-consumer recycled content requirement for smaller bags, but the City encourages retailers to use recycled-content paper bags.

30.   Why did the City ban lightweight carryout bags but allow heavy, thicker ones?

The thicker, stronger plastic bags – those more than 2.25 mm thick – have special uses for which paper is not a good option or not readily available; for example, very large bags for bedding and other bulky household items.

31.   Some cities with bag bans are very prescriptive about the recycled content in paper bags. What about Monterey?

The only requirement is that larger paper bags – the ones for which a charge is required – state that they contain a minimum 40% recycled content , and has printed in a highly visible manner on the outside of the bag the words “Reusable” and “Recyclable”, the name and location of the manufacturer, and the percentage of post-consumer recycled content.

32.   What stores does this apply to?

All retail stores of any kind are prohibited from using lightweight plastic carryout bags, and they must charge customers 25 cents each for any large, grocery sized, carryout bags used. 

33.   Can retailers just "eat the cost" of large paper bags and not charge their customers?

No. The minimum charge must be collected. It is meant to be a reminder to customers to shop with reusable bags, and for that reason the number of bags and total cost of recyclable paper bags sold must be shown on the customer’s sales slip. The City ordinance requires the charge for all large bags at all stores to ensure a level playing field level among retailers. 

34.   Are stores required to charge for the heavy-weight plastic bags?

No, retailers do not have to charge for the 2.25 mm and thicker bags permitted by the ordinance.

35.   Will any leniency be given on bags that are almost 2.25 mils thick?

No. Should a question arise, retailers should be prepared to show that the bags they are using are 2.25 mils thick or greater. It might be a good idea for retailers to ask bag suppliers to include the thickness of the bag on invoices.