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  • Viroqua Plastic Free

Why Doesn't Wisconsin Have a Plastic Bag Ban?


Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey recently made history when she signed an Executive Order banning state agencies from purchasing single-use plastic bottles. Although ten states and the District of Columbia currently have laws in place that either ban or charge a fee for single-use plastic bags, this is the first ban in the country to tackle single-use plastic bottles at the state level.


In neighboring Vermont, plastic straws (including compostable plastic straws) and plastic stirrers are not automatically given to customers. Plus, you won’t find any Styrofoam plates, cups, trays, egg cartons or take-out containers. Customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags, straws, travel mugs, water bottles and leftover containers.


New Jersey’s “Get Past Plastic” law prohibits providing or selling single-use plastic carryout bags and Styrofoam food service products. Plastic straws are only available upon request.


Oregon’s “Sustainable Shopping Initiative” mandates that retail stores and restaurants cannot use single-use checkout bags and must charge a minimum of five cents for paper bags, reusable plastic bags and fabric bags.


But where is Wisconsin on this list of forward-thinking states, you ask? It’s not.


In 2015, the Wisconsin Legislature passed Wisconsin Act 302 which states that “no political subdivision may do any of the following: Enact or enforce an ordinance or adopt or enforce a resolution regulating the use, disposition or sale of auxiliary containers, prohibit or restrict auxiliary containers, or impose a fee, charge, or surcharge on auxiliary containers.”


What this means is that cities, villages, towns and counties may not enact local legislation that regulates bottles, cans, Styrofoam, and plastic or paper bags. The law was based on wording written by an industry lobbyist for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).


David Ayer, Earth Day Network’s End Plastic Pollution campaign manager, states, “In much the same way as big tobacco and the gun lobby have acted, plastic industry groups are subverting local democracy by buying up state legislators. Repealing these preemption laws is a main priority in the U.S.”


The United States is already a late comer to enacting legislation restricting the use of single-use plastic products. In 2008, Rwanda made a permanent commitment to eliminate single-use plastic bags. This decision included not only public awareness campaigns, custom inspections at the border and airports, and strict penalties for violations, but also information about sustainable alternatives and government involvement with businesses to encourage compliance. As of 2022, ninety-nine countries have plastic bag bans and thirty-two countries charge a fee for a bag. While none of these bans are all-inclusive, they represent an awareness of the damage plastic pollution has on the planet’s environment.


According to Good with Money, the top ten countries fighting plastic pollution around the world include Canada, our neighbor to the north, which despite months of lobbying by Canada’s plastic industry, has declared plastic a “toxic substance” and paved the way for a ban on most single-use plastic items by the end of 2023.


It is the responsibility of every one of us to do what we can to reduce plastic pollution in our lives, in our towns, in the world. Governor Healey says, “In government, we have an obligation, we also have an opportunity to not only stop contributing to this damage (plastic pollution) but to chart a better path forward. Our natural world recognizes no political divisions and neither should our work to protect it.”




Phase out of lightweight plastic bags around the world (laws passed but not yet in effect are not shown on map)

Green - Plastic bags banned

Gold - A charge on some plastic bags

Orange - Voluntary charge agreement

Purple - Partial charge or ban (municipal or regional levels)


Sources: USA Today.org: Massachusetts Governor Healey Announces Plastic Bottle Ban

Earth Day.org: A Third of the US Has Laws Preventing Plastic Bans

Good With Money.com: Top 10 Countries Doing the Most to Tackle Plastic Pollution

GGGI.org: Rwanda – Lessons Learnt from a Pioneer in the Fight Against Plastic Pollution

Wikipedia: How Many Countries Ban Plastic Bags

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