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On September 20, 2011 the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, in an effort to reduce litter and protect our local and marine environment, enacted an ordinance adding Chapter 5.48 to the Santa Cruz County Code relating to the reduction of single-use plastic and paper carryout bags within the County.

Bag Reduction Ordinance Effective March 20, 2012

  • Most businesses and special events may no longer provide plastic carryout bags to customers within the unincorporated area of the County of Santa Cruz.
  • Businesses must charge 10 cents per bag for paper bags provided at checkout. After one year, the charge for paper bags will increase to 25 cents. Businesses retain the funds they collect for providing paper bags. No money is paid to the County.
  • Receipts should indicate any paper bags that were provided and the price charged for them.
  • Restaurants are exempt from the new ordinance, and may continue to provide plastic or paper bags to their customers without charge.
  • The ban does not apply to plastic bags used to protect produce or meat, plastic bags around ice cream or other wet items, paper bags to protect bottles, paper bags used to weigh candy, paper pharmacy bags or paper bags to protect greeting cards.
  • Reusable bags are encouraged. When shopping, remember your reusable bag!

The full text of the ordinance along with related material is available here.

You may also contact the Department of Public Works for more information at (831) 454-2160 or

Frequently Asked Questions about the Bag Reduction Ordinance

Why is the County doing this?

Single-use bags are among the most common components of litter on county roads, parks, beaches and elsewhere. Cleanup efforts are expensive, and single-use bags are a waste of valuable resources. Plastic bags pollute county waterways, endanger wildlife and take up scarce space in the County's landfill.

Will I still be able to buy plastic bags?


Why not charge a fee for both plastic and paper bags?

A state law, AB2449, enacted in 2007, prohibits charging for plastic bags.

Why not just encourage better recycling?

The County does support recycling, but still the majority of single-use bags are not recycled.

What are the cities doing?

The cities of Watsonville, Capitola, Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz are all considering similar ordinances.

What about the environmental documents?

The Mitigated Negative Declaration and supporting documents are available online.

Why are restaurants exempt?

This was a negotiated settlement to a lawsuit against the County.

If I still have plastic bags in stock, can I use them after March 20?

No, any use of plastic bags after March 20, other than those permitted by the ordinance, will be subject to fines.

What records do I have to provide to the County?

Businesses should keep records of bag use, to be provided to the County upon request. No records need to be submitted unless you are asked for them.

Is the fee for bags taxable?

No, the State of California has ruled that the bag fee is not taxable.