Austin Bans Single-Use Bags

It seems like every day, more and more cities are banning single-use plastic bags, and the latest town to jump on the no-waste train is Austin Texas!

What makes the ban in Austin stand out is that on top of banning single-use plastic, the law also covers some types of disposable paper bags. The law, which took effect on March 1, 2013 does have a few exemptions:

  • Thick plastic bags are still allowed, because they are considered to be reusable.
  • Paper bags with handles that are 40% recycled are still OK.
  • There are some food uses where plastic is still permitted, basically if the purpose of the single-use plastic bag is to avoid leaking or spilling.

You can check out the full list of exemptions on the Austin Bag Ban page.

Related Reading: 16 Ways to Reuse Plastic Bags

Before instituting a full on bag ban, the City of Austin tried a curbside recycling program for plastic bags, which didn’t perform very well at all. The program ran from May to August of 2008, with 5000 participating households. Unfortunately, folks just weren’t recycling enough bags to justify the increased costs for collection, so the city decided that they needed to take more drastic measures to curb plastic pollution.

Of course, Austin isn’t the only city to ban the bag. San Francisco banned plastic bags years ago, and Seattle instituted a plastic bag ban last summer. In Hawaii, residents got plastic bans passed county by county, until the entire state effectively had a ban on plastic bags.

Opponents to plastic bag bans say that reusable grocery bags actually pose a public health problem, but this seems a little bit farfetched. The argument is that the bags hold food, and over time that food can rot, making the bags unsanitary. Does that also mean that we should be using only disposable dishes and cutting boards, too? Or does it mean that – like any other surface that comes into contact with food – you ought to wash your reusable grocery bags between uses?

Does your city ban plastic bags? If so, that probably means you need to shore up your stash of reusable bags! Check out some super fun tutorials for making your own reusable shopping bags from reclaimed materials on the next page!

sewing a reusable grocery bag

How to Make a Reusable Grocery Bag

If you live in one of the many areas that’s instituted a ban on disposable shopping bags, you’ve probably got a stash of reusable grocery bags already going, but if you’re going to be tossing some of those bags in the wash you might need a few more to beef up your stash.

Most grocery stores now sell reusable bags on the cheap, but these are usually made from plastic in far-off factories. That means a big carbon footprint just for toting our groceries around. When you make your own bag, you can choose to use reclaimed fabrics, so the bag you tote will be as good for the planet as the healthy food you put inside of it!

There are lots of ways that you can make your own reusable bags, and the best option really boils down to your needs and what materials you have on hand. Here are a few options to get you started!

  • Mesh T-Shirt Grocery Bag – Grab an old tee from your closet or the thrift store, and turn it into a beautiful mesh bag.
  • Vintage Pillowcase Grocery Tote – I have what you might call a “pillowcase problem.” I can’t hit the thrift store without grabbing a few vintage pillowcases from the linen section. They’re just so handy! Check out how to turn an old pillowcase into a reusable grocery tote.
  • Denim Grocery Bag – Got an old pair of jeans handy? Turn them into a durable, reversible grocery tote using an old plastic bag as a pattern.
  • Flour Sack Grocery Bag – Next time you stock up on flour or rice, look for bulk bags! You usually get a better price this way, and sometimes those big bags are made from burlap or cotton, which means you can turn them into reusable grocery bags when they’re done!

Have you guys made your own grocery bags before? I’d love to hear your favorite method in the comments!

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Nils Anders Lunde


Laura Saxon
Past Member 2 years ago

Good for them! It's a step in the right direction.

Jeni P.
Jeni P.2 years ago

in UK they still sell plastic bags...but to be honest i cant understand why people dont recycle them or just revert back to cloth bags....cloth bags dont take up much room and they certainly hold a lot more than one use plastic bags....looks like the only way people will start 2 think twice when it comes to bags is if stores start charging them for em....roll on the day that happens ...thanks for sharing

B Jackson
BJ J.2 years ago

Recycle most everything I can, so have very small amount of weekly trash that easily fits in grocery-sized bag - not buying trash bags is recycling, too. When I have enough plastic grocery bags for several weeks trash, I use cloth bags for shopping. There are many non-food ways to reuse plastic bags before taking them to recycle bins.

Bill K.
Bill K.2 years ago

i pick up a lot of trash outdoors and it's amazing the sheer quantity of plastic bags i find. unfortunately, although i support a ban on these bags i no longer use reusable bags because i need these bags for all the trash i find. i even have other people saving their bags for me as i fill hundreds of these bags every year with trash i find outside where it's not supposed to be.

Cali Calero
Cali Calero2 years ago


Karen Friedman
Mrs. Friedman2 years ago

Wish this would happen in Ohio, but if never will.Too conservative state with conservative right -wing governor.

katarzyna phillips

we've not had plastic bags in shops for almost 2 years here in wales. if you want a bag, you have to pay for it. a lot of people use reusable bags, such as the thicker plastic ones that once they get manky or ripped, you take them back to the shop you got them from [if they have that policy] and they give you a replacement. or there are the thin almost waterproof material ones, or like a hessian type one. most people don't mind; and if you forget to take a bag, that's your problem! there are a few rules where that doesn't apply, when it comes to loose food, but they're a bit sketchy, but i think on the same lines as those set out already in the article

Margaret C.
Margaret C.2 years ago

People here (in Austin) are going to need a little time to get used to it. It's funny, but no one is complaining about it, it was just a matter of time, and about time. And when you forget your bags, just keep them in the grocery cart and dump them in your car. Some stores, on March 1st, gave reusable bags away with your purchase, and they do have them for sell for less than a dollar at many places. Ikea has been selling their large blue bags for .49 cents, Target gave away their big red bag with the dog (with the red bullseye), some other stores are doing the thick paper bags with the handles. But the best thing to doing and many are doing it, is just putting their bags in their cars so they'll remember. It's a great idea and about time.

Christine Stewart

People just need to use a little common sense and hygiene. The shopping carts are likely dirty when babies and kids sit in the carts! So your re-useable shopping bag may pick up germs- just wash the bags occasionally! Wash your hands before preparing food, don't let raw meat and raw veggies hang out on the same cutting board...The bacteria can't jump off the shopping bag and onto your meal- it is your unwashed hands that are transferring germs all over the place!