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FAQ: Reusable Bags Under COVID-19

July 7, 2020

Good news for reusable bags!

On June 18, 2020 the Alameda County Public Health Department updated their Shelter in Place Order (20-14, Appendix A)Customers are now permitted to bring their own bags, mugs, or other reusable items from home if they do not require handling by employees. People can place them in carts and/or baskets, but they will need to bag their own groceries.  Berkeley's Public Health Division has it's own Health Officer Order (Appendix A, pg. 7) that also allows reusable items, but they may not be placed on any surfaces.

Stores and eating establishments have been under enormous pressure to address the ever-changing requirements to protect employee and public health; resuming the practice of accepting customers’ reusable bags may not occur immediately at all businesses.

Please review the following FAQ for more information regarding reusable bags:

1.  Why are some stores allowing customers to use their reusable bags but others do not?

Stores are adapting to many changes in local and state regulations to protect employee and public health. On June 18, 2020 the Alameda County Health Officer Order (Appendix A, p. 6) was revised to allow customers to bring in their reusable bags if they do not require handling by employees. Some stores may need more time to make changes in their policies and procedures, and some stores may not be aware of the change yet. Let stores know you would like to bring your own bag now that it’s allowed. Please be patient during this complicated time.

2.  Can stores still charge me for a bag even though they won’t allow me to bring my own?

Yes, stores can charge for any bag they provide. However, some stores or employees may not be aware of the most recent change, and as a customer, you may ask them to allow you to use your own bag per the local Health Officer Order (Appendix A, pg. 6).

3.  My local restaurant is giving out thin, single-use plastic bags. Can they do that?  

Local and state bag laws do not allow single-use carryout bags to be provided by affected businesses throughout California. We recognize that many businesses are experiencing supply chain disruptions, and this has affected carryout bag inventory. Some businesses may have purchased single-use bags when paper and reusable bags were more challenging to stock early in the pandemic. We have temporarily suspended enforcement of the Reusable Bag Ordinance and are not penalizing businesses for use of non-compliant bags during this temporary suspension. Consider letting stores and restaurants know you would like them to stop distributing single-use bags, so they know their customers don’t want thin plastic bags.

4.  How can I learn more about the safety of using reusable bags during COVID 19?

Some reliable sources of information about reusable bags, cups and other items include: