Starting next year, most shoppers in Minneapolis can expect to pay a nickel for those plastic or paper shopping bags they’re used to getting free.
The City Council approved the new charge Friday, which would go into effect Jan. 1. Based on what’s happened in other cities with similar policies, council members have said they hope it will reduce littering and persuade customers to bring reusable bags.
The move comes more than two years after the Minnesota Legislature thwarted the city’s effort to ban stores from using plastic bags. Representatives for grocers and retailers opposed the fee, saying it would put Minneapolis businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
Most retailers in the city, including grocery, convenience and department stores, will have to charge customers a 5-cent fee for each bag used. The store gets to keep the fee, which is tax-exempt.
Some businesses won’t have to charge for bags, including farmers market vendors, dry cleaners and restaurants bagging takeout or leftovers. Plastic bags used to hold fruits, vegetables and other bulk goods will also not be taxed.
Customers who participate in food assistance programs recognized by the state, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), won’t have to pay for bags. Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins said at Friday’s meeting that city staffers would research ways to make sure low-income residents can get reusable bags.
City inspectors won’t enforce the fee until summer. First, they want to explain the change to businesses and give them time to adjust, said Patrick Hanlon, the city’s director of environmental programs. Customers can call 311 to report businesses not charging the fee.
Businesses will have to show how many bags they’ve provided during regular inspections. They will be given a warning if they are not charging the fee; if they are still not compliant, they will be issued a citation and an initial $200 fine, Hanlon said.
At the moment, the city does not have a plan to track whether the fee will reduce the number of disposable bags provided to customers, Hanlon said.
Several grocery stores already charge for bags, while others give customers credit for bringing their own bags. Kowalski’s, which has criticized the fee, does not charge for bags.
Eureka Recycling, a nonprofit recycler in Minneapolis and St. Paul that advocates for waste reduction, supported the fee. The company spends hours each day clearing plastic bags from equipment and estimated it costs $75,000 a year in extra labor “because of all the plastic bags that end up in recycling,” Miriam Hol singer, Eureka’s vice president of operations, told council members this week.
Organizations representing the state’s supermarkets, convenience stores and other retailers tried to stop the bag fee.
At a public hearing this week, Jamie Pfuhl, president of the Minnesota Grocers Association, said the fee would create a “competitive disadvantage” with stores in surrounding cities that don’t charge for bags. She said it would be a “dramatic change” for stores accustomed to providing free bags, and she did not want its members to “become the bag police.”
“We know that customers will shop price,” Pfuhl said.
Council Member Cam Gordon, author of the ordinance, said the city would push the Legislature to impose the fee statewide.
In Duluth, the City Council could vote Monday on whether to set a 5-cent fee only on plastic bags.
“I hope that Duluth, other cities and the state will follow our lead and enact similar laws soon,” Gordon said.
Staff writer Katie Galioto contributed to this report.