Cincinnati Bans Single Use Plastic Bags Starting Jan. 1 For Some Businesses

Sep 10, 2020

The full Cincinnati Council has approved an ordinance banning single use plastic bags in the city.  It would apply to stores that sell food, including restaurants, starting Jan. 1.

The measure passed by a 7-1 vote.  Those voting in favor: Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, Greg Landsman, David Mann, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman and Wendell Young.  Member Betsy Sundermann cast the only no vote.  Jeff Pastor was excused from Thursday's meeting.

The ordinance states "Americans on average use one single use plastic bag per person per day, amounting to around 100 billion disposable plastic bags annually; and single use plastic bags in landfills take hundreds of years to biodegrade and may even then release microplastics and toxic substances into the environment."

"This Earth is speaking to us, and I don't believe it's a whisper, I think it's a really loud yell," said Council Member Young in support of the ordinance. "That it's basically saying to us in a relatively short period of time, if you don't pay attention, the place that you call Earth, the place that you call your home, the place that has nurtured life on this planet for God knows how long, that environment will cease to exist. We have the ability to right that ship."

Prior to casting her "no" vote, Sundermann said she was concerned about adding more financial burdens and regulations on businesses right now during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I also worry that in the lower income neighborhoods, this will disproportionately affect the business owners because of the exemption," Sundermann said. "The customers don't have to pay for the bags, but the business owners in the lower income neighborhoods will have to pay for and provide the bags to people."

Sundermann also said she'd heard from some people that the reusable bags create more waste than the single use plastic bags.

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman said he supported the measure because of the broader discussion about protecting waterways, the Earth and preserving landfill space. He called the ordinance the progressive right step.

"But all of us need to be conscious about making sure that those small businesses that will be impacted, and the poor who are going to be charged at some point, that we're doing everything we can to provide bags for them," Smitherman said.

Food inspectors with the city's health department will be enforcing the ordinance during routine inspections, and they will have a check box on their inspection forms about single use plastic bags.  

Stores and restaurants will face fines of $100 per day until they stop using the bags.

However, city officials would be offering education and help to assist establishments in complying with the new law.

Customers will be encouraged to bring their own reusable cloth bags.  But they will also have the option to buy a paper bag or a heavier duty reusable plastic bag for five cents at stores and restaurants, but that fee would not start until July 1, 2021.  And that five-cent fee would be waived for anyone receiving federal supplemental food subsidies.