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Shopper Frequently Asked QuestionsCity Trash & Recycling


What is the City of Santa Barbara’s definition of a single-use plastic carryout bag?

Single-use plastic carryout bag means any bag made predominantly of plastic derived from either petroleum or a biologically-based source (including compostable and biodegradable bags).  This does not include reusable bags, produce or product bags (bags used to carry meat, vegetables or other products to the point-of-sale).           

Why has the City of Santa Barbara banned single-use plastic carryout bags?

The intent of the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance is to significantly reduce the environmental impacts related to single-use plastic carry out bags and promote a shift towards the use of reusable bags.

How are single-use plastic carryout bags harmful to the environment?

  • They are consumed in extremely high volumes.  Approximately 47 million bags are used in Santa Barbara annually.
  • They are produced from non-renewable resources. 
  • They are designed to be disposable (rather than reusable).
  • They are difficult to recycle.  Less than 5% of the 20 billion plastic bags used annually in California are actually recycled.
  • They become litter that can enter storm drains and watersheds or may be blown directly into the ocean by wind.  Once in the coastal habitat, marine species can ingest them or become entangled in the bag leading to fatal results. 

What can I use as a carryout bag?

Anything you can safely carry your groceries with, including: reusable bags, baskets, buckets, and boxes, for example.

Are plastic produce bags (used to carry meat and produce to the register) banned?


Are plastic trash can liners banned?


Are the bags that my pharmacist uses for my prescriptions subject to a charge?

No. Paper bags distributed for physician prescribed prescriptions are not regulated. However, carryout bags that a customer obtains for other purchased items would still be affected.

Why are compostable and biodegradable bags included in the definition of Plastic Carryout Bags that are prohibited?

Compostable and biodegradable bags have all the same fly-away tendencies as bags made out of light-weight plastic. Therefore, they are as likely to become litter or marine debris. Compostable bags are made to compost in an industrial composting facility, not in the natural environment.

What if I don’t want to buy/bring a reusable bag or purchase a paper bag?

If you can comfortably carry your purchases out by hand, that is one option; or you can repackage your goods into a shopping cart or basket and unload them directly into your vehicle (and then return the cart or basket).

What if I can't afford bags.

Customers have a variety of options available to bypass the cost of purchasing paper and reusable bags, such as:   

  • Bring a reusable bag or basket you already own, or avoid a bag altogether on small purchases like a single item. 
  • Obtain free reusable bags that are often given out by businesses and community organizations at special events as promotional items.
  • Residents participating in supplemental food programs are eligible to receive either free reusable bags or recyclable paper bags or both, at the store’s option. 


Are reusable bags recyclable? Where can I bring them to be recycled?

Woven or cloth reusable bags are not recyclable.  The best option for this type of bag is to donate it to a second hand store if it is still in usable condition or repurpose the material.  Plastic bags, at least 2.25 mils thick (for example, see photo) are also defined as reusable bags and can be recycled in the blue recycling bin.

10-Cent Charge

Can I use my own carryout bag and avoid the 10-cent charge?


Does the 10-cent charge per paper bag apply to everyone? Who is exempt?

All regulated stores must provide at the point of sale, free of charge, either reusable bags or recyclable paper carryout bags or both, at the store's option to any customer participating in California supplemental nutrition and feeding programs.

What is the 10-cent charge used for?

All monies collected by a store under this Ordinance may be retained by the store and may be used for:

  • Costs associated with compliance.
  • Actual costs of providing recyclable paper carryout bags.
  • Costs associated with a store's educational materials or education campaign encouraging the use of reusable bags, if any.

Is the 10-cent charge per paper bag taxable?

Not currently. Please check with the State Board of Equalization. The latest advisory is that the 10-cent charge on paper bags is not subject to State sales tax.

Last Updated: Feb 1, 2016