Paper Bags: Advocating for Market-Based Policy, Consumer Choice

Paper bags are made from a renewable resource — trees — and are recyclable, reusable, and compostable. Unfortunately, paper bags are sometimes included in measures to tax retail bags or mandate the amount of recycled content in products.

Taxing and Banning Paper Bags is a Solution in Search of a Problem

Paper is not part of the problem communities are trying to solve. In 2019, 66.2 percent of all paper consumed in the U.S. was recovered for recycling, and the recycling rate has met or exceeded 63 percent every year since 2009.

  • Bag taxes and bans increase costs for consumers.
  • Paper bag taxes and bans discourage consumers from using products that are recyclable, compostable, made of recycled material, and reusable.
    • Bag taxes and bans create distortions in the free flow of recyclable goods, disrupting an already successful paper recycling system.
  • Fees remitted to retailers influence bag procurement decisions and create an un-level playing field for products.

Mandating Recycled Content in Products Does Not Increase Recycling Rates

Recycled fiber content mandates can have unintended economic and environmental effects.

  • Strong markets for recyclable materials drive paper recycling. Local and state governments should partner with industry, environmental groups, and consumers to increase paper recovery.
  • Rather than drive increased recovery of paper, mandating minimum recycled content in bags only shifts the available supply of fiber to other products where it is less efficiently used.
  • The distinction between pre- and post-consumer content in recycled content mandates is not meaningful and should not be used in government policies. Pre-consumer is material produced in the manufacturing facility that hasn’t left the factory before it is recycled while post-consumer was purchased and used by a consumer, then recovered for recycling.   


Related: Sustainability Goals |

i1 RISI, International Recovered Paper Figures, December 2016 data