Nickel per single-use store bag approved by Minneapolis City Council

A woman holding a plastic bag testifies before a City Council committee.
Josie Winship, who lives in the Seward neighborhood, testifies before a Minneapolis City Council Committee on Monday. Winship supports a proposed 5-cent fee on single-use shopping bags.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Updated: 11:30 a.m.

Minneapolis City Council members on Friday approved a plan to require grocery stores and other retailers to charge customers 5 cents for every bag they take.

The measure has its supporters in the community. At a public hearing this week, Minneapolis resident Josie Winship said plastic bags are a big driver of the city’s litter problem. She brought a sample to show council members.

“I walked 12 blocks, which is about 1 mile in my neighborhood in Seward and I collected this bag of trash in that amount of time, plastic. It’s approximately 1 cubic foot for a 30-minute walk.”

Single-use bags have been in the crosshairs of city leaders for years. In 2016, council member Cam Gordon drafted an ordinance to ban plastic bags outright and require retailers to charge customers a nickel apiece for paper bags.

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“Really the point of all this is to get people to bring their own bags, and have reusable bags that they'll use hundreds of times. We think this is actually a change people can make and it's going to be easy," Gordon said in a 2016 MPR News interview.

Passing the bag ban was easy; the council approved it 10-3. But a year later, just before the ordinance was to take effect, the Minnesota Legislature — then controlled by Republicans — banned cities from banning bags. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said he didn’t like the preemption measure, but still approved it because it was tucked into a jobs bill.

Because they can’t prohibit shopping bags outright, Minneapolis city officials now want retailers to charge for them. Gordon’s 5-cent fee is back, and this time he wants to apply it to paper and plastic. This won’t be a new municipal revenue source; retailers would keep the nickels.

Like its doomed predecessor, bag ordinance 2.0 includes a long list of exemptions. Bags for bulk foods such as fruits and vegetables will still be free. And the measure does not target newspaper, takeout food or dry cleaning bags.

The proposal also has a carve out for grocery customers who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and similar benefits.

Jamie Pfuhl, president of the Minnesota Grocers Association, does not like the ordinance. Among other things, she said, it puts Minneapolis supermarkets at a competitive disadvantage. Pfuhl also said the exemption for people paying with EBT benefit cards could lead to complications in the checkout lane.

“When that goes through, the cashiers don’t know what’s happening. It’s a seamless transaction,” said Pfuhl. “So unfortunately now, a WIC or SNAP recipient is going to have to identify that that’s what the transaction is, and that’s against what we’re trying to achieve there.”

Retailers are also pushing back on a similar ordinance in Duluth. City councilors there exempted paper bags from the fees, but last week they tabled the ordinance over questions about whether the extra nickel for plastic would be subject to sales tax.

The Minneapolis measure will take effect in January. City staff say retailers would not face fines for noncompliance for the first six months.