Reusable bags now required at checkout
Illustration of checkout lane

The Austin City Council unanimously approved the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance, which takes effect March 1, 2013. The ordinance regulates the types of carryout bags that can be distributed by business establishments in Austin and encourages a shift to reusable bags. The ordinance is not a ban on all plastic or paper carryout bags.

What types of businesses are affected?Download the Hardship Alternative Compliance, or Emergency Access Form

The new rules apply to all businesses in Austin that provide carryout bags to their customers, including grocery and convenience stores, restaurants, hardware stores, department stores, bookstores, sporting goods stores, gift shops and other types of retailers. There are some exemptions to the requirements for certain businesses and items, which are listed below.

Bag Standards

Businesses can provide any of these reusable bag options at checkout:

  • Cloth, fabric or other woven bags with handles.
  • Paper bags, made of at least 80% recycled content, with handles. Handles are not required for paper bags that are smaller than 8 inches wide and 14 inches tall.
  • Plastic bags (at least 4 mil thick) with handles. “1 mil” is .001 inch. A 4-mil bag is about as thick as a freezer bag.
  • See the Administrative Rules for more details.

The ordinance does not require businesses to charge a fee for any bag, though businesses may set a price for reusable bags. Customers may also bring their own bags from home.


The following bags are exempt from the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance:

  • Produce bags and other non-checkout bags used for bulk items, unwrapped baked goods and frozen foods
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Packages of multiple bags intended for disposal of trash, pet waste or yard trimmings
  • Paper bags used by restaurants; single-use plastic bags are only allowed if necessary to prevent moisture damage (for soups, sauces and other liquids)
  • Paper bags used by pharmacists or veterinarians for prescriptions or other medical necessities

Checklist for Businesses

  1. Review the bag standards and decide which types of bags to offer customers (if any).
  2. Identify bag suppliers that can provide bags that meet the ordinance requirements.
  3. Post signs required to be placed near points-of-sale (registers) and in your parking lot that comply with the ordinance’s signage rules. Keep in mind that signs must be in English and Spanish. You can find sample signage templates on this website.
  4. Train your employees about implementing the new rules, including bag standards, best practices for responding to customer questions and tips for properly filling a variety of reusable totes. Ask employees to encourage customers to bring reusable bags.

Read the Fact Sheet for Businesses and the FAQs for more information. Contact us if you still have questions about the types of bags you can offer and other requirements or if you’d like help finding bag suppliers.

Other Suggestions

  • Offer incentives or a credit to customers who shop with reusable bags.
  • Consider selling reusable bags.
  • Place copies of the Fact Sheet for Shoppers at checkout counters for customers or employee reference.
  • Consider installing reusable bag racks in place of plastic bag carousels to hold reusable bags up while packing.
  • Donate overstock of noncompliant bags to nonprofits or charities.

Hardship, Alternative Compliance and Emergency Access

Affected businesses, distributors and manufacturers may apply for Hardship, Alternative Compliance or Emergency Access by completing and submitting a form to the City of Austin - Austin Resource Recovery. The City has 60 days to render a decision.

If a request for Hardship is approved, the hardship approval remains in effect for only six months, and thereafter, the business must comply with the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance. Personal preferences, financial circumstances, inconvenience or aesthetic considerations do not qualify as hardships.

Alternative Compliance is an option intended to encourage innovation in the production of reusable bags. A manufacturer or a third party must certify that the alternative bag meets the standard of 100+ reuses carrying 16 pounds.

To qualify for Emergency Access, a business must demonstrate that single-use bags are not a large percentage of transactions and that alternative compliance causes an undue hardship. If a request for Emergency Access is approved, the affected business is subject to an annual renewal request and re-evaluation up to a maximum of three years.

View a list of businesses that have submitted alternative compliance, hardship and/or variance requests.