University of Michigan Gateway Ford School

Plastic Bag Policy and Enforcement in the United States

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October 2017

Abrianna Soule


In the United States, there is a growing concern about the negative impacts of single-use plastic bags on human health and the environment. Several local and sub-national governments have implemented bans on the use of plastic bags as a result of this concern, but to date, there is no published policy research addressing the enforcement provisions of plastic bag bans in the U.S. In this study, I inventory all state and municipal plastic bag bans in the U.S. to identify any trends in enforcement provisions, specifically in fines assessed for noncompliance. I find that the majority of these policies (87.1%) specified fines as the form of penalty. There is variability, though, in the type and amount of fines and in the locus of enforcement, with nearly half of all
bans not designating a specific enforcement locus (48.5%). This study provides evidence that specifying enforcement is important in the policy-making process for plastic bag bans, and has far-reaching implications for future research on public behavior related to environmental regulations and waste reduction.

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