Northampton's Single Use Plastic Bag Ban

Plastic Reduction & Sustainability Ordinance (1/21/2021)

The Northampton City Council has approved a new plastic reduction ordinance, which bans styrofoam and non-recyclable plastic take-out containers and instead requires prepared food to be packaged in biodegradable, recyclable, reusable or compostable containers. See a full copy of the ordinance here.

A few important components of the new ordinance:

  • Food establishments are prohibited from providing prepared food to customers using polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, or other nonrecyclable disposable food service ware.
  • Food establishments using any disposable food service ware shall use biodegradable, compostable, reusable or recyclable food service ware
  • Retail establishments are prohibited from selling or distributing polystyrene food service ware to customers. This includes sale of polystyrene ware for home food use.
  • Food establishments must provide disposable food service ware accessories only upon request by customers or at a self-serve station.
  • The ordinance was approved January 21, 2021 but is not scheduled to take effect until January 1, 2022. 
  • The new ordinance replaces the single-use plastic bag ban (Section 272-18, below) since it incorporates the prohibition on single-use plastic bags. 
  • Hardship deferments are available if the mayor’s office finds the law would pose an undue hardship to an establishment.


On May 21, 2015, the Northampton City Council passed ordinance 272-18 banning the distribution of single use plastic shopping bags in the City of Northampton. The ban becomes effective on January 1, 2016. Read the full ordinance

A few important components of the ordinance:

  • Northampton retail establishments may continue to dispense only compostable plastic, reusable or biodegradable shopping bags.
  • Thin-film single-use plastic shopping bags are defined as bags with a thickness of 3 mils or less. Plastic bags of greater than 3 mils in thickness are considered reusable.
  • Ban exemptions include: A) Specialty thin-film bags—which typically lack handles—such as those used to protect or contain dry cleaned garments, curbside newspapers, and wet or food items (e.g. produce, meat, bulk foods, bread and cheese); B) Flexible transparent covering (commonly referred to as plastic wrap); C) Thin-film single use plastic bags under 3mil in thickness purchased prior to 4/1/2015.
  • Bag conformity will be incorporated into the City health inspection process.

Presentation to City Council by Youth Commission - September 2020

Image of Plastic Reduction & Sustainability Ordinance Presentation
Single Use Plastic Bag Ban Flyer
plastic bag ball pulaski

Plastic Perpetrator? This ball, comprised of over 18,000 single-use plastic shopping bags, was the subject of a short-lived police investigation when it was accidentally left overnight in front of the Puchalski Municipal Building in April, 2015. The ball weighed 270 pounds and--unwound--was approximately six miles long. Originally created for a 2010 school-related Earth Day project, it was the star of a waste consciousness-raising parade and toured the streets of downtown Northampton pulled by a bicycle with Big Brass Band accompaniment.

Additional Bag Reduction Resources:

Why Communities are Choosing to Limit Distribution of Single-Use Plastic Bags  (PDF)

List of current US plastic bag ordinances
(compiled by Californians Against Waste)

Related bag ban information from other U.S. communities
Seattle (King County, WA)
Los Angeles (L.A. County)
San Francisco (City & County of San Francisco)
Southampton (New York)

The Bag Share Project (Northampton, MA)
Bag Share Project volunteers sew and donate cloth bags to stores, libraries, farmer's markets, and other venues that want to reduce their shopping bag waste footprint. An ID tag is sewn on the front of each bag, designating it as a 'Use and Return' bag. The bags are available at participating stores and may be borrowed when someone forgets their own reusable bag. They can be returned to any BagShare location.

Democrats Propose Nationwide Tax on Plastic Bags (Washington Times, November 2015)
Plastic Bag Charge in Scotland Sees Usage Cut by 80% (BBC
News, October 2015)
Do Plastic Bag Bans Work? (Scientific American Magazine, October 2014)
Will the 5pence Charge Finally Kill the Plastic Bag? (The Guardian, UK, September 2015)
China Bans Free Plastic Shopping Bags (New York Times, 2008)
Think Outside the Bag video (Warwick, Maine)
The Majestic Plastic Bag: A video mockumentary