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The Ohio Environmental Council, Surfrider Foundation, and Sierra Club Support  Local Authority to Regulate Single Use Plastic Bags in Ohio

Athens, OH – On May 6, 2024, three environmental groups filed a brief in support of the City of Athens, which is facing a lawsuit from the Ohio Attorney General alleging that state law preempts the City’s recent ban on the distribution of single-use plastic bags. The Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club are represented by the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) on the amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief

The Ohio Attorney General filed the lawsuit in the Athens County Court of Common Pleas on January 2, 2024, just one day after the City of Athens’ plastic bag ban became enforceable. The Attorney General’s complaint raises the specter that local businesses might be negatively affected by the ban, an assertion that has proven to be completely unfounded.

“Our community is among those across the country taking it upon ourselves to address and reduce the harms of plastic pollution on current and future generations. The city deserves support in its fight to uphold its democratically decided policy,” said Molly Jo Stanley, Southeastern Ohio Regional Director for the Ohio Environmental Council. “When residents sought this city-wide effort, it was guided by thoughtfulness, scientific research, and a commitment to the health and wellbeing of our community. Alongside overwhelming community support, some businesses and residents have expressed opposition to the ordinance, but community organizations have worked hard to offer numerous creative solutions.”

The Athens bag ban allows businesses and individuals to “use” plastic bags in the course of regular commerce; however, businesses are prohibited from selling or distributing single-use plastic bags within city limits. The goal, as articulated by the Athens ordinance, is to address plastic pollution by reducing the amount of single-use plastics circulating in the environment.

“This ordinance mirrors countless other local laws from across the country, and Surfrider was excited to see the City of Athens join other jurisdictions in Ohio, including the City of Bexley, the City of Cincinnati, and Cuyahoga County, in taking a stand against the scourge of plastic pollution,” said Sarah Damron, Surfrider’s Great Lakes Regional Manager.

“At chapter beach cleanups, we routinely find that the litter collected is primarily comprised of plastic, including single-use plastic items such as plastic bags, plastic beverage bottles, and plastic straws,” states Dr. Lara Roketenetz, Surfrider’s Northern Ohio Chapter Volunteer Coordinator. “It doesn’t make sense to allow the flow of single-use plastic waste and litter to continue unabated, and it doesn’t make sense to prohibit a local government from enacting a law to address the problem at the source.” 

The Attorney General’s lawsuit, which singles out the City of Athens despite those other jurisdictions already having bag laws on the books, alleges that the City’s ban conflicts with a state law adopted in 2021, which states that individuals may “use” auxiliary containers in the course of business.

“Other states that have adopted similar laws, such as Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, all go a step further and also prohibit local governments from banning the distribution of these auxiliary containers, like plastic shopping bags,” said Ericka Copeland, the State Director for Sierra Club in Ohio. “Ohio’s law is notable because it lacks that specific language and therefore achieves a more limited effect, and does not preempt or conflict with the ordinances in Athens, Bexley, and elsewhere.”

The Ohio Constitution, Article XVIII, Section 3, enshrines the concept of “Home Rule” and gives municipalities the “authority to exercise all powers of local self-government and to adopt and enforce within their limits such local police, sanitary and other similar regulations, as are not in conflict with general laws.”

“If the State wants to argue that the legislature has placed a ‘ban on bans,’ that itself is an obvious violation of the City’s Home Rule authority under our State’s Constitution,” said Chris Tavenor, OEC General Counsel and lead attorney for the environmental groups. “The state has not passed a general law regulating single-use plastics. Unless the state wants to pass a comprehensive law protecting Ohioans from the harms of plastic pollution, local governments in Ohio have the right to protect the health and safety of their residents and the environment.”

“The Ohio legislature has attempted to muddy the issue of Home Rule with vague language and baseless threats, such as the lawsuit that we are responding to today,” said Copeland. “Our organizations stand beside the City of Athens and other local governments in Ohio that are trying to keep us safe from plastic pollution.”

Every piece of plastic ever made will exist forever. Plastic never fully degrades, instead, it breaks down into tiny microplastic particles, polluting our waterways, harming wildlife, and getting into the water that we drink and into the food we eat. In a recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists discovered that 58% of the over 300 humans studied, had micro- and nanoplastics in their carotid artery plaque. These plastics contribute to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, which can be fatal. The more we look, the more we’re finding microplastics in new places. Despite being labeled as “recyclable”, plastic bags are not actually recycled. These bags jam up machines costing commercial recycling facilities time and damaging machinery.

Studies have demonstrated that plastic bag regulations, like Athens’ ordinance, are effective in reducing the amount of litter from single-use plastic bags and encourage people to switch to more sustainable options such as paper or reusable bags. 

In addition to the OEC, Sierra Club and Surfrider’s amicus curiae brief submitted to the Athens County Court of Common Pleas, the Ohio Municipal League has also filed a brief in support of the City of Athens.


About the Ohio Environmental Council

The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) is the state’s most comprehensive and effective environmental advocate for a healthier, more sustainable Ohio. The OEC develops and ensures the implementation of forward-thinking, science-based, pragmatic solutions to secure healthy air, land, and water for all who call Ohio home. Learn more at 


About the Surfrider Foundation

The Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s ocean, waves, and beaches for all through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 500,000 supporters, activists, and members, with more than 160 volunteer-led chapters and student clubs in the U.S., and more than 800 victories protecting our coasts. Learn more at


About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person’s right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit