Walmart Tries Plastic Bag Ban, But Will Public Buy In?

With the proposed assembly bill, AB1998, California is on the verge of a total ban on disposable plastic grocery bags, and a fee on paper bags. If passed, the ban wouldn’t kick in until July, 2011, but Walmart has been doing some test runs on its own.

As part of its Plastic Bag Initiative, Walmart tested out a total ban on plastic bags at three California stores last January. The stores were picked to participate based on earlier tests among customers that suggested a favorable demographic. In the tests, all plastic bags were completely banned, and two types of reusable bags were offered for sale (small and large) at 15 cents and 50 cents each. The bright blue bags are made of a washable polypropylene material and are said to last about 75 uses each.

If you read the comments on The Sacramento Bee’s coverage of the experiment, you might think the world was coming to an end — the most hilarious were a string of comments predicting a massive salmonella outbreak. But regardless of the barrage of negativity and proclamations of the dawn of socialism, KCRA’s informal survey showed a majority of shoppers expressing more positive sentiments about a bag ban.

If AB1998 is passed some vocal shoppers may kick and scream, but the measure might actually end up saving money for all involved in the long run. Grocers will no longer have to supply bags at their own expense, and shoppers will have some one-time expenses – though hopefully for larger and higher quality bags than the little blue ones at Walmart, which, at least for the test run in January, were actually oil-based. Whether the environment benefits may also depend on the quality and materials of whatever bags wind up in the hands of consumers.

Nick Aster is the founder of TriplePundit. has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place. It was acquired in 2017 by 3BLMedia, the leading news distribution and content marketing company focused on niche topics including sustainability, health, energy, education, philanthropy, community and other social and environmental topics.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He also worked for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

26 responses

  1. Wal Mart is a retailing giant which could influence buyers across america. However, has Wal Mart done a comprehensive study of total enviromental impact of removing PE carry bags and compelling customers to buy it's new reuseable bags? I am sure whether the carbon footprint is reduced or not this will mean a huge cost savings for Wal Mart by not giving free bags.In several surveys done in not so affluent areas it is reported customers reuse these bags for other applications including garbage bags.In asia one knows each carry bag unless it is really flimsy and made from waste the customers use them time and again 8 or 10 times. I agree waste of resources must be avoided but a reality check is called for do the thick woven bags actually get used 70 or 80 times to justify such large use of materials and in the end where will they end up.Has Wal Mart first tried innovative communication campaigns to change waste of PE bags before withdrawing them probably saying people's habits cannot change.? Wal Mart as a leadewr could have done better rather than imposing costs on consumers this weay..

  2. Replacing petrol based based bags…with the same petrol based bags WTF!!?!?? We DO have plant based resources that can create the exact same(compostable/bio-degratable) product. Obviously they are not doing this for the enviornment and just looking to make more $$ by jumping on the green bandwagon. FAIL

    1. Kyle – My guess on the compostables is that it's a cost issue.

      Walmart probably doesn't want to pay 8-10x for a compostable bag (v. a plastic bag) when they can simply re-sell “stronger” plastic bags back to consumers.

      Still, I'd love to hear commentary from someone at Walmart on whether they've considered compostables. You'd think the BP spill would be making folks a little more conscious of the petrol-based consumables…

  3. The reality is that this is a good solid first step. I saw Wal-Mart's sustainability director speak at the GRI Conference in Amsterdam and I have to say I was impressed. There's no perfect “sustainability” solution for any issue we face–but there is always a best possible alternative. If we reduce plastic bag consumption significantly, with a huge consumer giant like WalMart taking the lead, this should be welcomed–not picked apart. This is good for the environment, good for companies, and in the long run, good for consumers. Great article!

    1. Look wall-mart is a scam and only does thing to make more money, they sell junk that brakes in a week and win you bring back they don’t even try to exchange, it and the staff are all over work and under payed and lied to all the time just like the customers. Yes it is cheap but do you no y it is so cheap? Here is the rill story they hire a comp to make fishing poles like let say 100.000 units at 20 dollars
      per unit the comp does so, no big dill they are ask could you make me 1000000 unit I will pay you 20 a unit. The company say ok thinking its wall mart they take out loans to put there order in they hire new people to fill it thin wall mart find someone that will do it for 18 dollars even win they have the other comp fist and just pay them that and the other comp goes out of biz and no one sees that. They see how great wall-mart is win they move in the mom and pop shops go and every one think good jobs they get payed good money till there is no one left to work for then they cut your pay and you say hay what and they say if you don’t like it go find a another job geese what there is only them left a good work environment.

  4. Good first step for Wal Mart. I'd love to see them lead the charge. Hopefully 1998 passes. I do hope, however, that bag manufacturers step up their game to give us relaly high quality , large bags for groceries. Those little bags just clutter all over the place!

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  7. They passed a “bag tax” in DC a few months ago. The 5 cents per bag went to pay for Anacostia River cleanup (a very worthy cause). Even so, many people cried Chicken Little and claimed lower income folks wouldn't be able to afford reusable bags. What an unfair tax on the poor! Then, after the bag tax passed, every grocery store in DC gave away free reusable bags for months to attract business. Even now, months later, you can still get free reusable bags in some locations when you spend $25 or more… To date, I am not aware of any grocery stores that have gone out of business or anyone starving as a result of the new tax.

  8. This is great. People have already moved on from plastic bags but if they are there people will continue to use them as a crutch. I'm glad the state is taking the lead on this one and pushing everyone to act smartly.

  9. This is great. People have already moved on from plastic bags but if they are there people will continue to use them as a crutch. I'm glad the state is taking the lead on this one and pushing everyone to act smartly.

  10. I don't use the bags they sell at the store. Doesn't anyone have canvas tote bags anymore?

  11. The problem with compostable bags (and food containers too) is that it is difficult to compost them. They don’t just compost in the landfill, they need to be sent to a commercial composting facility which usually isn’t available.

  12. this is not so new.. here in switzerland we banned plasticbags some time ago.. and we have no connection to the sea.
    we use recycled paperbags and reusable ones.

  13. MY BUTTCRACK if you think that this will lower costs to the consumer? Really? The consumer will never see one penny of savings. It is a good story… but fiction!

  14. Why doesn’t Walmart make the disposable bags slightly larger & thicker? Instead of needing 15 bags to carry your purchases home, you only need about 4. Funny thing I see too is people with reusable bags buying trash can liners. I double line my trash can….the kitchen bag on the outside and the walmart bag on the inside. If the walmart bag leaks, I toss them both, if its doesn’t, I just toss the walmart bag. I go through maybe 10 trash bags a year….other than the free ones.

    1. As a cashier, I hate seeing a customer bring in their own bags. Why? Because it slows down my line when trying to hold up the bag, ring up the item, place said item in bag, and see a line of impatient people behind Mr. or Mrs. Environment.

  15. Where can I purchase the types of plastic bags wallmart uses in bulk, so that I dont have to go shopping to get 1 or two.

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