From Ban the Bags to Bag the Bans: How the Swipe of a Pen Unraveled ALL Texas Bag Bans



Since 2010, Texas cities have been passing and implementing local single-use bag ordinances to curb local pollution that costs local taxpayers for cleanup. The rural west Texas town of Fort Stockton was the first city in the state to have a “bag ban”, but other cities large and small followed suit.

But, these ordinances were recently challenged at the Texas Supreme Court by bag makers, the Texas Chemical Council, the Texas Retailers Association, and Merchants Associations, among others, when they questioned how bags should be defined. Under state law, the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act says local governments may not restrict or prohibit “the sale or use of a container or package.” Bag ban advocates feel this definition wrongly encompasses bags pointing to cardboard boxes and rigid plastic to-go containers as examples more fitting of this definition instead.

In July 2018, the Texas Supreme Court overturned all bag ordinances. The justices wrote, “City ordinances cannot conflict with state law,”…“The wisdom or expediency of the law is the Legislature’s prerogative, not ours. We must take statutes as they are written, and the one before us is written quite clearly. Its limitation on local control encompasses the ordinance.”

In alignment with Governor Abbott signing legislation that revoked local control on the City of Denton’s 2014 fracking ban and Austin’s 2016 requirements for stricter background checks for ride-share employees, this is yet another Big Brother move where state government overreaches to affect local control policies.

Texas Governor Greg Abbot

According to the website, the following cities enacted bag ordinances in Texas, which were all reversed:

  • Fort Stockton passed an ordinance banning plastic bags in August of 2010.
  • Brownsville passed an ordinance banning plastic bags and requiring a $1.00 fee for single-use bags in September of 2010.
  • South Padre Island passed an ordinance banning plastic bags in January of 2011.
  • Austin passed an ordinance banning paper and plastic single-use bags in March 2012.
  • Laguna Vista passed an ordinance banning plastic bags in September of 2012.
  • Freer passed an ordinance banning plastic bags in December of 2012.
  • Sunset Valley passed an ordinance banning single-use plastic and paper bags in February of 2013.
  • Kermit passed an ordinance banning plastic bags and requiring a fee on recycled paper bags in September 2013.
  • Laredo passed an ordinance banning plastic bags in June 2014.
  • Port Aransas passed an ordinance banning plastic bags in December 2014.
  • Dallas passed an ordinance placing a $0.05 fee on single-use plastic and paper bags in March 2014. It was repealed in 2015.
  • Eagle Pass passed an ordinance that bans plastic bags effective January 1, 2017.

And cities that have proposed single-use bag ordinances currently include:

Texas cities with bag ordinance propositions

Courtesy of the Texas Tribune

Strange bedfellows:

Over the past 6 legislative sessions, Texas lawmakers have tried relentlessly to undo bag ordinances at the local level. This has caused strange bedfellows to band together in the fight:

  • The Cities of Brownsville, South Padre Island, Corpus Christi, and Port Aransas were creating a bag-ban coalition with other cities along the Texas coast to prevent bag waste entering the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Cotton growers and other industrial farmers cited harm to crops and lower production yields and quality.
  • Cattle ranchers came together to advocate for keeping the bans intact citing harm to their livestock.
  • Owners of recycling facilities stated single-use bags caused shutdowns at their plants and an increase in worker injury potential when they have to climb into machinery to detangle bags.
  • Municipalities were standing against the continued strain on local waterways, water drainage and pipe infrastructure, and the enormous amount of tax dollars being spent for clean up.
  • Surfing enthusiasts fought for clean recreational and fishing waterways.
  • Environmental groups advocated for the protection of ecological sites and potential harm to endangered species.

Hold retailers to their commitment:

Now that all bag ordinances in Texas have been thwarted, companies like Hobby Lobby and The Dollar Tree have immediately brought back single-use bags and many will jump on the bandwagon. But advocates are calling on retailers, such as Target, HEB, Randalls, Walmart, and others to maintain bag restriction policies internally and not bring back the bags to the checkout register, which can help communities protect health and tax dollars.

To take action demanding these types of retailers in Texas continue to #BagTheBags, please call or email their corporate offices and/or post your message on social media and make sure to tag the company.

Together, we can have a Texas free from #PlasticPollution!