Need a shopping bag? In Minneapolis, that will cost 5 cents extra

Minneapolis will soon make customers pay a nickel every time they take a carryout bag, a move aimed at protecting the environment by forcing people to bring their own bags.

Friday, the Minneapolis City Council voted 10-0 to impose the 5-cent fee on plastic, paper and reusable bags at many store checkout counters. Businesses will keep each nickel they collect. 

“Hopefully, Minneapolis can show how we can do this,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, who wrote the ordinance. “I’m hoping that our businesses and residents will embrace it and it’ll be the motivation that we need.”

Grocery store owners have raised concerns that it will be burdensome on cashiers and drive some customers to shop in the suburbs.

Some grocery stores currently offer a 5-cent rebate to customers that use reusable bags. Mike Oase, chief operating officer at Kowalski’s Markets, said the company prefers a rebate to the new fee.

“We’re disappointed in the passage of it, primarily because now we’re going to have to charge customers 5 cents,” Oase said. “We get to keep the 5 cents, but we’d rather not have to charge customers for bags they get in our stores.”

The fee, which takes effect Jan. 1, is the latest attempt to crack down on single-use bags in Minneapolis. Minneapolis banned plastic bags altogether in 2016, but a day before the ordinance took effect, legislation passed by a Republican-controlled state Legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton blocked it.

Legislative Democrats have since tried to rescind the law so the Minneapolis ban could take effect. But GOP lawmakers defended the earlier decision, saying they like using plastic bags.

So, Minneapolis settled on the 5-cent fee instead.

At a Monday public hearing in city council chambers, more than a dozen advocates pushed for the proposal. One said the fee should be doubled to 10 cents.

“I’ve carried a watermelon home in a shirt when I was suddenly hungry after a run,” one supporter said. “The shirt was never the same, but I didn’t need a plastic bag and it’ll decompose much more easily than any plastic bag.”

Another decried the use of carryout plastic bags for picking up dog poop.

“The fact that we’re so attached to these huge grocery bags for picking up poop is absurd,” she said. “What are we picking up, poop from our pet elephants?”

Some bags are exempt from the new fee, including bags for produce, bulk foods, and restaurant take-out. Minnesotans on food assistance will not have to pay the 5 cents per bag. 

Grocery store owners said they don’t want to have to enforce the nickel fee.

“We don’t want to force front-end team members to become the bag police,” said Jamie Pfuhl, president of the Minnesota Grocers Association. “This ordinance is a dramatic change, as our customers are accustomed to receiving their bags at checkout as a complementary service.”

Some percentage of customers will drive outside the city just to avoid the 5-cent fee, she said.

Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, echoed that.

“We understand the goals of the city council as it looks to reduce litter by changing people’s behaviors, but we have strong concerns relating to this additional cost on consumers shopping in Minneapolis,” Nustad said in an email.