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Redwood City Approves Reusable Bag Ordinance

City Council approves reusable bag ordinance - implementation and enforcement will be effective on October 1, 2013.


  1. Affected stores ARE ALLOWED to implement the plastic bag ban and start charging for paper bags prior to the October 1 deadline.
  2. A plastic bag that is 2.25 mil thick or thicker is considered a reusable bag and can be provided by stores, and the store may charge for that reusable bag.
  3. To report an alleged violation of the ordinance (after October 1, 2103 in Redwood City, or currently in unincorporated San Mateo County) please call 650-372-6200.

Documents and other information:

City Council adopts ordinance on reusable bags

At its meeting of March 25, 2013, the City Council of Redwood City unanimously adopted a reusable bag ordinance to prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags within the City. The first reading of the ordinance was held at the Council meeting on March 11.

Implementation and enforcement of the reusable bag ordinance will become effective as of October 1, 2013.

Redwood City's action follows San Mateo County’s adoption of a reusable bag ordinance last year, which has subsequently been adopted by a number of other cities on the peninsula.

The County prepared an environmental analysis of a reusable bag ordinance, which the cities, including Redwood City, can use for their ordinance. The purpose of a multi-agency process such as this is to provide for a uniform, consistent standard across the region, making for a smoother transition and easier compliance by affected businesses. Implementation of the City’s ordinance will take place on October 1, 2013.

Information meetings held

Two informational meetings were held to assist businesses and community members with understanding the scope and effect of the reusable bag ordinance:

For Businesses……………………….Wednesday, February 13, 2 pm
For Community Members…………..Tuesday, February 19, 7 pm

Both meetings took place in the Community Room of the Redwood City Downtown Library, at 1044 Middlefield Road. Any community member or businessperson was welcome to attend either meeting, as the information presented was identical at each one.

Why consider a ban on plastic bags?

The EIR notes that an estimated 400 million single-use plastic bags are used each year in San Mateo County, including an estimated 42 million in Redwood City, with only a small percentage being recycled. The majority end up in the landfill, or as litter and in storm drains, and they are a common litter item found in roadway, park, and creek cleanups in Redwood City. As litter, these plastic bags can adversely affect marine life when they find their way into streams, creeks, lakes, and the bay. The EIR estimates that an ordinance would potentially reduce Redwood City’s annual use of plastic bags by 95%.

Further, use of reusable bags reduces litter and conserves natural resources: a reusable bag has the potential to replace over 600 single-use plastic bags over its lifetime, significantly reducing plastic bag litter, and reducing the one-time use of paper bags.

What does the reusable bag ordinance do?

The ordinance bans distribution of plastic bags by all retailers except restaurants and nonprofits (not including protective bags for produce or meat, dry-cleaning, and newspapers, among other exemptions), and requires retailers to charge a minimum of 10¢ per paper bag used (25¢ as of 2015). Enforcement will be complaint-based, and conducted by San Mateo County.

An evaluation of a similar ordinance in San Jose (which became effective on January 1, 2012) concludes that the ordinance has had an observable effect on reduction of plastic bags in the environment:

  • Decrease of 89% in storm drains
  • Decrease of 35-50% in downtime from plastic bag damage at recycling facilities
  • Increase in reusable bag use from 4% up to 62%
  • Decrease in plastic bag use from 3 to 0.3 bags per customer per visit to stores

More informaion on the impacts of a ban on plastic bags is available on San Mateo County's website at

What about concerns with health and hygiene related to reusable bags?

Some have contended that reusable bags may pose a danger to public health, that if they become dirty they may harbor potentially dangerous bacteria. San Mateo County’s Health Officer notes that:

  • There is nothing about reusable bags that renders them more susceptible to bacterial contamination than other common items that consumers encounter every day.
  • Other jurisdictions which have banned disposable plastic shopping bags have seen no increased rates of bacterial infections associated with the increased use of reusable bags.
  • There is no study that remotely suggests reusable bags could be considered a public health threat or a notable source of disease.
  • The County’s ordinance requires reusable bags to be machine washable or made from a material that can be cleaned or disinfected.
  • Periodic washing of reusable bags for hygienic purposes would be the responsibility of the individual customers, and it is assumed that individuals would generally continue to practice good hygiene.

Read San Mateo County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow's statement about health concerns related to reusable bags.


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