The Anchorage Bag Ban is coming: here’s what you need to know

The plastic bag pile to the left is what one year of not throwing away bags amounted to for one person. (Photo: NASA/Lauren Harnett)

Across Anchorage there’s some uncertainty about what will happen when the new ban on plastic bags go into effect on Sept. 15. Here are some common questions answered, and some advice on how to make the transition easy.

Question:
What is the bag ban?

Answer:
Last summer, the Anchorage Assembly followed a number of other Alaska communities in banning the use of single-use plastic bags in retail sales. After being postponed, the change goes into effect Sunday, Sept. 15. It means businesses can no longer hand out plastic bags to carry away goods at the end of the sale.

Question:
What will happen at grocery stores and checkout counters?

Answer:
You can use your own reusable bags. Some businesses even sell them at the cash register. Or, you can buy paper bags for 10 cents each from retailers that opt to keep them on hand. Under the Municipality’s new rule, businesses have to charge for paper bags, up to 50 cents.

Question:
What counts as a reusable bag?

Answer:
Good question. The city actually had to pin this down pretty specifically. In their very helpful and detailed fact-page about the bag ban, they say that a bag is considered reusable if it is: “a) designed and manufactured to withstand repeated use over time; b) is ma​de from cloth, other machine washable fabric, or is made from other woven material that can be cleaned and disinfected regularly; and c) has handles.” The specificity is in part to make sure a retailer doesn’t still give out the same thin plastic bag and simply say, “Hey, it’s reusable if you want it to be.”

Question:
Will I get in trouble if the police see me carrying a plastic bag out of a store?

Answer:
No. The enforcement side of the new ban falls on retailers. If a complaint is filed, code enforcement officers will follow up. A first violation brings a warning, a second brings a $250 fine, and all offenses after that are $500. The idea was to severely disincentivize businesses from ignoring the new rule.

Question:
So are ALL plastic bags now outlawed?

Answer:
No. There are quite a few exceptions for when retailers can still use plastic products in sales. For example, bulk items like fruit, nuts or loose grains. Drippy, slimy items like meat or fish. Bags for ice. Bags for newspapers and dry-cleaning are still allowed. And products like garbage bags or Ziplock sandwich bags that you buy in stores are unaffected. This whole measure is really targeted at trying to eliminate single-use plastic bags handed out at the point of sale.

Question:
Anything out of left field I should be worried about?

Answer:
One area that might surprise residents is that this also applies to restaurants. So, in delivery or carry-out orders, that means no more plastic bags. (Even for dishes that tend to spill). Restaurants can switch to paper bags, but, like other retailers, they will have to charge customers ten cents for each bag.

Question:
What happens with the revenues collected from paper bag sales?

Answer:
Retailers retain any money they collect from selling paper bags. They can keep it, donate it; the decision is with them.

Question:
While helpful, this FAQ did not address a specific question I have. Whom can I contact for more information?

Answer:
For municipal resources, you can email PlasticBagBan@anchorageak.gov or call (907) 343-7123.