Cincinnati Could Soon Ban Single Use Plastic Bags

Mar 9, 2020

Updated: 3:00 p.m.

Cincinnati City Council Member Chris Seelbach has announced the city could soon have a blanket ban on single use plastic bags. Seelbach said stores that sell food, including restaurants, will not be allowed to use these bags starting Jan. 1, 2021, if City Council approves the ordinance.

He's been working on this ban for eight years, and he said it's "very complicated."

"Because of lots of definitions, and there's a lot of parties who were interested in this, from the Sierra Club to a beyond plastics group to Kroger, who's the largest grocery store in the country," Seelbach said. "And so it's just taken time to get everyone on the same page, including my colleagues."

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 even single use plastic bags in landfills take hundreds of years to biodegrade and may even then release microplastics and toxic substances into the environment."

Kroger had already announced it was going to stop using the bags by 2025, and Seelbach said the company is supportive of his effort and will stop using the single use bags in the city by 2021.

The company released a statement Monday through Seelbach's office:

In 2018, Kroger became the first major U.S. retailer to announce a phase out of single-use plastic bags at check out.  Our commitment supports Kroger’s Zero Hunger/Zero Waste social impact plan and recognizes we have a responsibility to reduce unnecessary plastic waste that harms our environment and endangers our ecosystem.  Kroger supports the City of Cincinnati’s proposal to accelerate this work.

Food inspectors with the city's health department would 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 would face fines of $100 per day until they stop using the bags.

Seelbach will formally introduce the ordinance at council's regular weekly meeting Wednesday. He's promising at least two public hearings to get feedback before asking the full council to approve the measure.

There would be lots of outreach before the new law takes effect, which includes giving away thousands of reusable bags. Seelbach said Kroger will be helping to fund the reusable bags.

Customers would also have the option to buy a paper bag or a heavier duty reusable plastic bag for five cents at stores and restaurants. That five-cent fee would be waived for anyone receiving federal supplemental food subsidies. Seelbach said the fees collected would go back to stores, not the city.

Seelbach said similar bans have been enacted in nearly 400 cities across the country and have not hurt business.

"We are not new to this," Seelbach said. "And most of the cities where they have single use plastic bag bans are the cities that we all hold up as the most growing, business friendly, great places to live. So, it's not true that this is going to hurt business. It hasn't in any other state or city that's done this."

Nathan Alley with the Sierra Club of Ohio said the group is supportive of the ordinance.

"We've had plenty of time to look at other examples and see what works and what might not work as well in the city of Cincinnati," Alley said. "And we're confident that the ordinance that has been designed is the right thing for our city. We're also confident that it's equitable and will not adversely impact any of our residents."

The Columbus Dispatch reported in December that the Columbus suburb of Bexley and Cuyahoga County have approved plastic bag bans.

Ohio Public Radio reported the Ohio House approved a bill prohibiting local communities from banning single use plastic bags in December. That measure is now pending in the Ohio Senate.

However, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said at the time he thinks banning local bans would be a mistake, suggesting a possible veto if the measure reaches his desk.