Policy Center Use of plastic bags has been banned for 11 years in São Paulo; see how the law works

The end of the free distribution of plastic bags by supermarkets, which will now be charged for, aims to reduce the excess plastic discarded in the environment (Fernando Frazãp/ EBC)

Wesley Diego – from Cenarium

SÃO PAULO – On Wednesday, 6, the City Council of Manaus (CMM) approved a change in the “Law of Bags”, which extends the deadline for local businesses to adapt to the new rules. By the previous project, the prohibition in the free distribution of plastic bags by commercial establishments is already valid since October 1st. The same measure has been in place in large cities like São Paulo for at least a decade.

The measure caused controversy in Manaus, generating criticism among residents. The main point questioned was the fact that establishments are authorized to sell the item.

Strange a law that forbids giving bags in Manaus, but selling can. Could it be that when nature receives a purchased bag, it decomposes the bag faster?
The problem is not the plastic but the person who disposes of it,now or get a cloth bag or give more money to the owners of supermarkets,nice this law Manaus became a Copenhagen has even bike lane where in the center has no sidewalks

The Law Project determined the immediate prohibition of distribution by establishments larger than 2 thousand square meters. Smaller stores would have 180 days to adapt to the new rule. Now, the deadline for both is until October 2022. Also according to the new text, as of January 2024, the distribution or sale of any type of plastic bag will be totally forbidden, with the free distribution of returnable bags being possible.

Another change would be in the value of the bag charged in the old protection. The councilman Marcelo Serafim (PSB) says that some supermarkets were charging up to R$ 0.60 per unit of the product. “The plastic bags can be sold at the limit of their cost. They cannot reach this absurd value, so these changes must be made as soon as possible”, he said.

In São Paulo

In São Paulo, a similar law was implemented in 2012 with the bags starting to be charged in supermarkets. Today, the cost of each bag is R$ 0.13 for the consumer, who can choose between green or gray bags, each for a specific purpose after use.

The white bags, until now common in supermarkets, are made from petroleum, a material that is harmful to the environment. The new ones are made from sugar cane. Both types are not biodegradable and release gases into the environment, but the bags made from sugar cane absorb these gases and transform them into oxygen.

The biologist and master in zoology Antonio Sforcin Amaral exemplifies the difficulty in decomposing plastic. “All the plastic that is produced will not disappear in nature after its disposal, as happens with paper, for example. This continuous presence of plastic implies some clear consequences, such as ingestion by animals, which can lead to their death, and other less obvious ones, such as when rivers are covered by plastic garbage, generating a cascading ecological disaster”, said the biologist.

Sforcin believes that reducing the use of plastic can help the planet. “Thus, reducing production or replacing plastic packaging with biodegradable materials can reduce the occurrence of these scenarios, but it is also important that the plastics already present in the environment are collected”, he concludes.

At the time of the project’s implementation in São Paulo, as in Manaus, there were also many complaints. A survey by Datafolha Institute in August 2012 showed that 69% of the population was against the removal of bags from supermarkets. For 73%, the courts should force supermarkets to distribute plastic bags for free.


New laws came in the following years, such as the one of January 2021, which bans commercial establishments in the city of São Paulo from supplying plastic cups, plates, cutlery, drink stirrers and straws. The utensils must be replaced by similar ones made of biodegradable, compostable, and/or reusable material, in order to allow recycling. The commerce that disrespects the law can be fined up to R$ 8 thousand, and can be closed in case of recurrence.

The population’s resistance to disposable straws and plates has been lower. Paulistanos have gotten used to living with less plastic. For Mariana Bombonato, from the Verdes Marias movement, considerably reducing the use of disposable plastic is a path with no return.

“We reduced the use of plastic three years ago. At first it was hard, because we didn’t want to use plastic, but then when we realized that we could look for alternatives inside the house, like returnable bags that you already have, you can leave the house with your water bottle… We gradually realized that reducing plastic was not that difficult. You just need to have another look”, says Mariana.