DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS

Plastic Bag Ban

Plastic Bag Ban Graphic Banner - Plastic Bags with Banned symbol - cityscape in background.

In an effort to promote a cleaner and more sustainable community by reducing the use of single-use plastics, the City of Pittsburgh unanimously passed a Plastic Bag Ban in April 2022.  

As of October 14th, 2023, all retail establishments (grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores, big box stores, etc.) operating within the City of Pittsburgh are prohibited from providing a single-use plastic bag or a non-recycled paper bag to a customer at checkout or through delivery.

  • Retailers were given a grace period to draw down their existing plastic bag inventory until January 1st, 2024. This grace period has ended and retailers are expected to longer provide plastic carryout bags to customers.

Please read this whole page thoroughly to ensure your business has all the necessary information to become compliant with the policy. If you have questions or concerns, please contact us.

 

Plastic Bag Ban Basics 

  • Plastic carry-out bags can no longer be distributed by Pittsburgh retailers at checkout, or through pick-up and delivery. 
  • Paper carry-out bags may be provided by Pittsburgh retailers for a minimum of $0.10 per bag (excluding bags listed under the "Exemptions" section of this page). Retailers keep all bag fees. 
    • Note: Paper bags must contain a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content and no old growth fiber. 
  • Shoppers are encouraged to switch to reusable bags to avoid the bag fee, reduce waste and prevent litter. 

Why ban plastic bags? 

  • Americans use an estimated 100 billion plastic bags per year. These bags are often used only once and are rarely recycled properly, leading them to litter our streets and sidewalks, clog recycling machines and storm drains, and eventually increase the presence of microplastic in our water and soil. 
  • Banning plastic bags and promoting the use of more sustainable alternatives will contribute to the reduction of plastic waste in our communities and help create a cleaner and healthier city for all residents. 

 

What You Need to Know

The plastic bag ban and paper bag fee apply to all businesses that meet the following criteria:

  1. The business is located within Pittsburgh city limits.
    • Use the Pittsburgh Map search bar to look up your business address. If it falls within a colored section of the map, you are operating within city limits.
  2. The business sells or distributes food and/or other products to the public.
    •  This includes, but is not limited to: supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, department stores, dollar stores, clothing stores, restaurants, food trucks, farmers’ markets, festivals, cafeterias, etc.

What You Need to Do

Steps to take to bring your business into compliance:

  1. Post signs informing your customers of the policy. Signs should inform customers of the bag ban and paper bag fee, and remain up until April 14, 2024.
  2. Discontinue distribution of plastic carryout bags. Retailers will face fines if they supply plastic bags to customers after January 1, 2024.
  3. Consider alternative compliant bags options. Retailers can distribute paper and/or reusable bags or encourage customers to bring their own.
  4. Update your in-store, online, mobile, telephone, and delivery service POS systems to offer paper bags for a fee, automatically or by customer request. 
  5. Train your staff and cashiers to ask customers if they have a bag or if they would like one for a small fee, before providing one.
  6. Charge a minimum of ten cents for paper bags. Customer receipts must show the charge for each paper bag, identified as a "carry-out bag charge".

Exemptions 

  • Exempt Transactions 
    • Any business that accepts vouchers or electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards issued under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or other electronic benefits issued by the Department of Human Services, may not collect paper bag fees from anyone using a voucher or EBT card for their purchase.
  • Exempt Bags - The types of bags listed below are considered exempt from the plastic bag ban, as well as the paper bag fee.
    • Bags used to contain unwrapped prepared foods or bakery goods, and cases in which the bag is considered the primary food packaging, such as:
      • Bags used to contain loose bagels; bags used to contain unwrapped or partially wrapped sandwiches; bags used to contain fries, hashbrowns, or other fast-food items that are not completely wrapped, etc.
      • Note: If a food item can be safely passed to the customer without a bag, it is not considered exempt and a paper bag fee should be applied for every bag used.
    • Any bags used solely to contain or wrap meat or fish for the purpose of separating it from other items to avoid contamination.
    • Any bags used solely to contain or wrap flowers, newspapers, dry cleaning, or similar items.
    • Any bags used solely to package medications distributed through a pharmacy.
    • Any bag used inside a retail establishment by a customer to deliver perishable items to the point-of-sale, such as:  
      • Bags used to package bulk fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, or candy. 
    • Bags sold in packaging containing multiple bags packaged together during manufacturing, such as: 
      • Food storage bags (e.g. Ziplock), garbage bags, or pet waste bags.
  • Exempt Retailers 
    • Dry cleaners and pharmacies are exempt from this policy when distributing bags used to package medications or for dry-cleaning. Bags distributed at these establishments for any other purposes must comply with the policy. 
    • No other retail establishments are exempt from this policy. The policy applies to all locations where food or other products are offered to the public for direct sale, free distribution, or delivery, including but not limited to: supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations, department stores, dollar stores, clothing stores, restaurants, food trucks, farmers’ markets, festivals, cafeterias, etc.

Enforcement:

Inspectors will conduct spot checks on retailers and will also rely on members of the public to report non-compliant businesses through the 311 Response Center, which allows residents to file reports through an app, online, or by phone. When inspectors check your retail store, they'll check for compliance with all the requirements mentioned on this page, so make sure you complete every step. Ensure you’ll pass an inspection by reviewing the "What You Need to Know" section above, as well as the components of the inspection report that are applicable to your operations.

Violations: 

Inspectors will review 311 reports and respond by visiting the business to check for violations. Inspectors will issue a warning for the first violation and provide the business with additional information, resources, and technical assistance to help them come into compliance. If the business does not come into compliance within a reasonable time, fines will be applied for subsequent violations.  

  • 1st violation: Warning 
  • 2nd violation: $100 fine 
  • Subsequent violations: $250 fine 

Resources: 

  • Official Notice
  • Compliant Bag Supplier List
    • This list can be used to find bag vendors who sell paper bags that meet the requirement of containing a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content and no old growth fiber. 
    • If you are a bag supplier with bags that meet these requirements and wish to be included on this list, please reach out to bagban@pittsburghpa.gov.
  • Inspection Report
    • This document can be used to understand what inspectors will be looking for when they inspect your business for compliance with the ordinance.
    • Please note that observations related to paper bags may not be applicable if your business is bag-free and observations related to EBT benefits may not be applicable if your business does not accept these benefits.
  • Ordinance Text - Chapter 610: Prohibition on Use of Certain Bags and Checkout Bag Charge 
    • Review the specific language included in the ordinance in order to ensure your business is compliant with every component. If you need help interpreting any section or can't find it explained on this webpage, please reach out to bagban@pittsburghpa.gov for assistance.

Common retailer questions, answered.

  • What kinds of bags can my business provide? 
    • Reusable bags and compliant paper bags can be provided. 
      • Reusable bags made of nylon, cotton, cloth, polyester, or another material that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuses are permitted. 
      • Paper bags are compliant if they contain no old-growth fiber and are made from at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content. 
  • What are the signage requirements? 
    • Retail establishments are required to post signage at all points of sale, informing customers that plastic bags will no longer be provided as October 14th, 2023. Signs must remain up until at least April 14th, 2024. 
  • Are retailers required to provide bags at all? 
    • No, retailers are not required to provide any bags and may choose to exclusively rely on customers to bring their own bags. 
  • Are bags used to carry out leftovers subject to the ordinance? 
    • Yes, all bags given to customers at restaurants are subject to the policy. 
  • Are small carryout bags subject to the ordinance? 
    • Yes, any bag provided to customers that is not included on the exempt bags list is subject to the policy, regardless of size. This includes bags provided to customers for things like a bottle of wine, notecards, or other small items. 
  • What about “compostable” plastics? 
    • There is no exception for plastic bags labeled “compostable,” “biodegradable” or "made from plants". 
  • Do I have to get rid of existing stock of plastic bags? 
    • Businesses were given a grace period to draw down their existing plastic bag inventory until January 1st, 2024 without financial penalty. As of January 1st, 2024 retailers with leftover plastic bags should consider donating their remaining stock to organizations or businesses outside of Pittsburgh city limits, including food banks, nonprofit reuse stores, etc. Chain stores with other locations outside of Pittsburgh city limits can ship their bag inventory to those stores.
  • Have additional questions that aren't answered here? Contact us: bagban@pittsburghpa.gov | (412) 514-4261

Common customer questions, answered.

  • Where does the fee go? 
    • Businesses keep the fee, which allows them to recover additional costs associated with providing paper and reusable bags to customers. 
  • How can customers avoid the fee? 
    • You can avoid paying the paper bag fee by bringing your own bag to the store or restaurant, or opting not to receive a bag.
  • Is it safe to use reusable bags? 
    • Reusable bags can be used safely with basic cleaning practices. You should launder or wash your reusable bags to keep them clean and prevent germs from accumulating. 
  • How can I report a non-compliant business? 
    • Customers can contact the City of Pittsburgh 311 Response Center to report a business that is out of compliance. 
      • File an online request form under the "Plastic Bag Ban Compliance" request type.
        • Please include the address of the business and a brief description of your observations. 
        • Reporting multiple businesses? Please complete a separate form for each one.
      • If you prefer to file a request by phone, call 311 or 412-255-2621.