FAQs - Businesses

The ordinance applies to all business establishments that provide carryout bags to their customers within the city limits of Austin. This includes grocery stores, hardware stores, retail shops, pharmacies, bookstores, sporting goods stores, gift shops, convenience stores and national retail chains. Nonprofit charities, including food banks, are exempt from the requirements.

Austin’s Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance does not ban plastic or paper bags. Instead the ordinance regulates the types of bags that can be provided by businesses to customers at the checkout. The goal is to offer customers bags that can be reused many times and to encourage customers to reduce waste by bringing their own bags when they shop. Thin, single-use plastic bags are a significant source of unsightly litter, contribute to flooding by clogging storm drains and creeks and remain in the ground in landfills for hundreds of years.

As of March 1, 2013, you may not provide free single-use carryout plastic bags to customers at checkout, unless the purchased item is among the ordinance’s exemptions. You may choose to provide one of the following reusable bags for a charge or at no cost to your customers: cloth, fabric or other woven bags with handles; plastic bags at least 4.0 mil thick with handles; or paper bags, made of at least 80% recycled content, with handles. Also, you must post signage to help educate customers about the ordinance.

You may charge customers for carryout bags that meet the ordinance’s bag standards. Unlike other cities with similar ordinances, you are not required to charge a fee for the bags.

The standards for plastic and paper bags are aimed at encouraging the use of reusable bags. Businesses may not provide plastic bags less than 4.0 mil in thickness or without handles to customers at checkout. Paper bags without handles or with less than 80% percent recycled content are prohibited as well. Note: Handles are not required for paper bags that are smaller than 8 inches wide and 14 inches tall.

The following bags are exceptions to the ordinance: produce bags, dry cleaning bags, door-hanger bags, newspaper bags, packages of multiple bags intended for disposal of trash, pet waste or yard trimmings, paper bags used by pharmacists or veterinarians for prescriptions or other medical necessities, and bags provided by nonprofit organizations. Also, restaurants may provide paper bags, but single-use plastic bags are only allowed if necessary to prevent moisture damage (for soups, sauces, and other liquids).

A reusable bag has handles and is made out of durable materials specifically designed and manufactured for multiple re-use. The ordinance specifies that reusable plastic bags are at least 4.0 mil thick.

You must submit a request along with a bag sample to Austin Resource Recovery for plastic carryout bags that do not meet the 4.0 mil standard in the ordinance. To seek approval for a specific bag, download and submit an Alternative Compliance form. A manufacturer or a third party must certify that the alternative bag meets the standard of 100+ reuses carrying 16 pounds.

Yes. Trash bags – and other packages of multiple plastic bags intended for disposal of trash, pet waste or yard trimmings – are not prohibited, unless they are provided at checkout for the purpose of transporting groceries or other goods.

Contact your current bag distributor and inquire about 80% recycled content paper bags and other reusable bag options, or consult this list of bag suppliers.

Starting March 1, 2013, you may not provide those bags to your customers at checkout. If you cannot return the bags to your supplier, you might consider donating them to a local food bank, charity organization or nonprofit.

Austin Resource Recovery launched the Bring it Austin public education campaign to educate shoppers about the new rules and to remind them to bring reusable bags with them when they shop. The City and campaign partners also are distributing thousands of free reusable bags at locations and events throughout Austin.

Stores are required to post signs, in both English and Spanish, to educate customers about the ordinance and remind them to remember their reusable bags. Find out more about signage requirements.

Free signage templates are available for download. You may also email or call 3-1-1 to confirm that your signage meets the requirements of the ordinance.

Businesses that lease and do not control their parking lots must post at least one 11” x 17” sign at each customer entrance. The purpose of the signage is to remind customers to bring their reusable bags before they enter the store.

The City of Austin will focus primarily on education and outreach to businesses that need extra assistance, using penalties as a last resort for businesses that do not make a good faith effort to follow the new rules. The ordinance provides penalties of $100 to $2,000 per violation.

There can be a difference between product packaging and a retail checkout bag. To seek approval to provide a bag for specific packaging, download and submit an Alternative Compliance form, along with the required documentation and a bag sample or photo.

For business establishments other than restaurants, or for those uses specifically exempted by the ordinance, biodegradable and compostable plastic bags are not an approved option. The City's carryout bag rules require durable and reusable options for customers. Since biodegradable and compostable plastic bags do not meet these criteria, these types of plastic bags cannot be provided to customers at checkout. If you have a biodegradable or compostable plastic bag that meets the durability standards, as confirmed by third-party testing, then you may submit an Alternative Compliance request to have your bags evaluated by the City. Please note that paper bags are compostable. Businesses may provide paper bags, made of at least 80% recycled content, with handles.

No. The City encourages post-consumer recycled content, but it is not required to comply with the ordinance.

Businesses must post at least one sign for every 50 parking spaces, and the signs must be readable by walking customers. The intent is that signs are evenly distributed throughout the parking lot to serve as a reminder for customers to remember their bags.

No. There is no requirement to print the percentage of recycled content on the paper bags.

Restaurants must comply with the carryout bag rules but are not required to post signage. The signage at other retailers is intended to remind customers to carry reusable bags. At restaurants, customers are not encouraged to bring their own bags due to food safety issues.

If there is a lease restriction on exterior door or window signage, the lease restriction prevails over the City ordinance until the lease is renewed. After renewal the City ordinance prevails, even if the lease renewal is automatic. Your business may be non-compliant with the ordinance until renewal, so you will need to download and submit an Alternative Compliance form.

In situations like this, the business is only required to post a sign (at least 11"x17") at the entrance of the establishment. The sign should be posted on a front window or door, facing out so customers can see it when nearing the entrance. Some property owners are choosing to place signs in their parking lots on behalf of their tenants.