Beginning May 14th, shoppers in the City of Santa Barbara will no longer face age-old question, “Paper or Plastic?” By that date, single-use plastic carryout bags must be removed from the largest of Santa Barbara’s grocery stores and pharmacies that sell groceries. Other businesses – smaller grocery stores, mini marts, liquor stores, and the like – will follow in November. All stores in the city that sell a line of groceries must self-certify by February 28th which “tier” of store they fall into (large or smaller, based on the ordinance definitions) or whether the ordinance does not apply to them.

Rather than plastic, customers will be strongly encouraged to bring their own reusable bags, all stores will be selling new reusable bags, or a customer will be able to select a recyclable paper bag. However, each paper bag will incur a 10 cent charge that will appear on the receipt.

Preparations are beginning now at the stores affected first. City Trash & Recycling sent letters to all stores in November alerting them to the upcoming changes. Stores preparing for the May 14th deadline must begin to diminish their supply of plastic bags, and ensure that reusable bags or recycled-content paper bags they intend to offer after the effective date meet the law’s requirements. They need to modify their checkout system to account for the 10 cent charge on paper bags. And they need to prepare staff to understand the changes.

Dozens of stores have already self-certified. Preparation checklists, frequently-asked questions, the official ordinance text, and self-certification forms are all available at

Many larger chain groceries and pharmacies are already familiar with plastic bag ordinances, and may have assistance available for their local stores. Santa Barbara now joins 90 other cities and counties in California that are implementing single-use bag ordinances. In fact, Ordinance No. 5636, adopted by the City Council in October of 2013, was specifically designed to be consistent with, and easily copied by, neighboring communities.


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