A Rule Farmers’ Market Managers Don’t Need to Enforce

Single-use Plastic Bags       

In September, 2014, the state of California became the first state to pass a statewide ban on single-use bags, both paper and plastic, with the passage of SB 270. Over the next 16 years, this law will be phased in to eliminate the distribution of single-use plastic bags and encourage the use of reusable bags containing a significant amount of post-consumer recycled content.

While many consumers may assume that this law applies to farmers’ markets, it does not. The law applies only to stores that meet certain conditions, such as gross annual sales of $2 million or more; 10,000 square feet or more of retail space; or a holder of a Type 20 or Type 21 license from the California Alcoholic Beverage Commission. A farmers’ market or other retail establishment that is not required to comply with the law, may choose to do so, but once they decide to come into compliance with the law, that change is permanent: “if the retail establishment voluntarily agrees to comply with the requirements imposed upon a store pursuant to this chapter, irrevocably notifies the department of its intent to comply with the requirements imposed upon a store pursuant to this chapter, and complies with the requirements.” (California Public Resources Code, 42280(g)(5))

A farmers’ market may decide to voluntarily comply with the statewide ban on plastic bags but as it is the farmers, not the farmers’ market that would implement the rules, it would be a challenge for a farmers’ market to ensure full compliance with the law, especially its requirements for use of the funds collected for the sale of reusable or recycled bags:

All moneys collected pursuant to this article shall be retained by the store and may be used only for the following purposes:

(a) Costs associated with complying with the requirements of this article.

(b) Actual costs of providing recycled paper bags or reusable grocery bags.

(c) Costs associated with a store’s educational materials or educational campaign encouraging the use of reusable grocery bags.

California Public Resources Code, 42283.7.

Instead of voluntarily agreeing to comply with the law, as described above, farmers’ markets may wish to instead mimic the law by incorporating similar restrictions into the rules and regulations for their farmers’ market. Each farmers’ market would need to decide how it wishes to adapt the state law to the farmers’ market environment, based upon their own review of the law and its key elements:

  • Beginning July 1, 2015, stores complying with the state law can no longer provide single-use carryout bags to consumers but can sell reusable or recycled paper bags to consumers for no less than $0.10 each.
  • Customers making purchases through the WIC or CalFresh programs will be provided reusable or recycled bags at no cost. This is required by federal rules which do not allow WIC or SNAP (the federal program enacted locally as CalFresh) funds to be used for any purchases other than specifically authorized food items.
  • Reusable bags must have handles, have a capacity of at least 15 liters, and be certified for at least 125 uses. If the bag is made from plastic film, it must include postconsumer recycled material.
  • Nonhandled bags “used to protect a purchased item from damaging or contaminating other purchased items” (California Public Resources Code, 42280(f)(2)(B)) or “a bag provided to contain an unwrapped food item” (California Public Resources Code, 42280(f)(2)(C)) are not considered single-use carryout bags and are exempt from the law.

The law also defines the term “reusable grocery bag producer” as one who manufactures, imports into the state, or sells to stores reusable grocery bags. If a farm or farmers’ market purchases bags from a company that also sells to stores that are subject to the law, that company will be required to comply with the law concerning the products that it manufactures and/or sells. This will likely means that farms and farmers’ markets will only be able to purchase products which meet the standards set for grocery stores and hopefully, due to increased sales of these items, the cost will decrease to help them be affordable for farmers.

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