Plastic bags

Plastic bag bans around the world

August 27, 2018

By Stephanie Nickell


Shoppers collectively use around 500 billion single-use plastic bags every year. That’s 150 bags per person, per year, for every single person on Earth — or enough to circle the globe 4,200 times.

  • In the U.S., only 2 states (CA and HI) have banned plastic bags on a statewide level
  • 4 U.S. states (DE, ME, RI, NY) have mandatory recycling or reuse programs in place
  • 10 U.S. states (AZ, FL, IA, ID, IN, MI, MN, MO, MS, WI) have placed preemptive bans on banning plastic bags.
  • 200 U.S. municipalities have banned or taxed plastic bags; outcomes have been largely positive, including:
    • San Jose, CA: Reduction of plastic bags in storm drains (89%), rivers (60%), and residential areas (59%); average number of bags per person reduced from 3 to 0.3.
    • San Francisco, CA: Savings of up to $600,000 per year in plastic processing fees.
    • Seattle, WA: Reduction of plastic bags in both residential (48%) and commercial (76%) waste.
  • Globally, plastic bags are banned in 32 countries, 18 of which are in Africa.


In Greensboro, the City’s Recycling Coordinator launched a program to use plastic shopping bags to make bed rolls for the City’s homeless community in a program called Operation Bed Roll.

Operation Bed Roll started in Greensboro in 2016, and is the only known city in the market doing this program. Its goal is to transform plastic shopping bags into “plarn” or plastic bag yarn, which is used to create crocheted sleeping mats that provide an insulated barrier for those who sleep on the ground. The organization hosts workshops teaching residents how to make “plarn” bedrolls.

Last year, Operation Bed Roll diverted an estimated 147,700 plastic bags from the landfill and collected 211 bed rolls for homeless persons in the city.