Ohio retailers looking to comply with Cuyahoga County's disposable bag ban can apply for up to $5,000 in grants through the Cuyahoga County consumer affairs and sustainability departments.
Locally owned, independent, employee-owned or franchise retail stores in Cuyahoga County — including Cleveland — are eligible to apply for a Sustainable Store grant to help customers comply with the disposable bag ban, which has been in effect since Jan. 16, 2022. A total of $200,000 in grants is available.
The grants are part of the county's approach to educating and supporting retailers and customers about the bag policy, rather than enforcing fines against stores using plastic bags.
Grant money can be used to create parking lot signage outside stores to help customers remember to bring in reusable bags; upgrade or change packing spaces to accommodate reusable bags; or buy paper and/or reusable bags to give away or sell to customers.
The grants also are available for any proposed project that helps retailers and customers make the transition away from single-use plastic bags.
"A retail store could create a program with a tangible incentive, like a raffle, where customers can win prizes or gift certificates for using reusable bags," said Katharyne Starinsky, program officer for the county's consumer affairs department.
The single-use plastic bag ban was passed by Cuyahoga County Council in 2019, but the rollout was delayed by Ohio House Bill 242, which halted the implementation of the legislation until the beginning of 2022 due to COVID-19 contamination concerns.
The county's ban on disposable bags, as it stands now, prohibits retailers, including gas stations, convenience and grocery stores, from using single-use plastic bags during checkout, though it allows the use of recyclable paper bags or bags made from at least 40 percent of recycled material.
Counties under Ohio law are not allowed to levy a fee for the use of single-use plastic bag. Cuyahoga County's ban does include a civil fine of up to $100 for retail violators of the bag ban for a second offense, and up to $500 per day for subsequent violations — though to date, the county has not enforced those measures.
"We're trying to make it easier for stores to eliminate plastic bags," said Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Sunny Simon, in a statement about the grants. "It's our hope that this seed money gives businesses a good start on a long-term strategy to fade out plastic bags indefinitely. And the county is prepared to support and promote those efforts over time."
Plastic bag bans exist in 11 states, with more than 500 local municipal bans in effect across the country, Starinsky said. Large national retailers, including CVS, Rite Aid and Home Depot, are phasing out plastic bags. Giant Eagle recently announced the company will no longer provide plastic single-use bags to customers in Cuyahoga County.
The reimbursement grants will be awarded on a competitive basis. Evaluation criteria are available on the BYOBags website, and applications are due by March 15.