Bag Use Standards
Every bag ban sets a legal bag use standard for reusable shopping bags. It’s generally up to law makers to tell people how many times with how much capacity a bag needs to stand up to in order to meet the standard.
Because the LA County law is used as the basis for so many other laws that define reusability, here we’ll go over how California defines use. Your local law may be a little different but the general principles are likely to be the same.
The LA County law requires reusable bags to hold up for 125 uses. It defines a “use” as being able to carry 22 lbs over 175 feet.
An averages space in a parking lot is about 8.5 feet across, so that’s the distance you’d carry a bag if you were parked 20 spots away (not including the distance from the checkout stand to the cars). This usage standard says nothing of putting the bag down and picking it up, but 2.25 mil can pass this test and manufacturers use strict testing to ensure they can.
Soft loop or wave top bags can generally meet this standard. Such bags are often sold as the “cheapest legal bag.” Stores often like these because of their cheapness, but consumers don’t like them much or reuse them much. They are hard to clean (few people will go to the trouble of washing them out with a spray or soapy water and hanging them upside down to dry.
Because of the weakness in this standard, many cities are exploring a revision in favor of increasing the mil standard for a reusable bag to 4 mil and increasing the minimum fee to $0.25. Monterey is one of those cities and some others are following suit, citing a study by Save our Shores. In that study, volunteers counted 740 Monterey shoppers going to grocery stores after the ban was in place, and found only 4 had reused a plastic film bag of 2.25 mil.
Consumers are savvy. For ten cents, they know they are getting a bag that they are not likely to reuse. It’s a poor investment. According to one study by Edelman Berland, 61% of shoppers preferred NWPP bags while only 6% cited LDPE bags as their preferred choice. Another study found that 70% of consumers prefer a bag that holds up to whatever they put in it. Most consumers just prefer to make a better investment in a bag they like to bring back again and again.