If you’re as much of a fan of craft beer as I am, you’ve probably been told at some point during a transaction that Georgia law requires you to bag your alcohol purchase. Most clerks under this impression take it so seriously that they will force you to either bag your alcohol or leave it in the store. Were you also under the impression that this law was real?
Well it appears no such law exists. For reasons unknown, this widely held belief persists in Georgia as well as numerous other states. Here is my proposal to end the myth, and the forced bagging, once and for all.
~It is crucial that liquor stores in Georgia retire any existing policies or practices that require the bagging of alcoholic beverage purchases at the time of sale. The result would be a reduction in bag-related waste that ends up in our environment, lower bag supply costs to our business owners, and the elimination of unfair financial burdens upon those who choose to bring reusable bags.~
Georgia is in an exceptional position to become one of the first states to adequately address the vastly misunderstood concept of forced alcoholic beverage bagging. There is no state law that dictates that the bagging of alcoholic beverages is required upon purchase, or at any time for that matter. And though it is possible that they may exist, we also found no local laws imposing such a requirement. However, numerous liquor store employees, as well as a surprising amount of government employees that we’ve personally contacted, are under the impression that the opposite is true. The law commonly cited in support of mandatory bagging is Georgia’s “Open Container Law”, as conveniently depicted in this response I received from an employee of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department:
“Thank you for your inquiry.
To answer your question, the State of Georgia has an ordinance on the books that is referred to as the “Open Container Law” which prohibits the sale of alcohol being sold without being bagged.”
Problem solved! Except Georgia’s “Open Container Law” doesn’t mention bags once, or anything about purchasing alcohol for that matter. It does mention “open containers” of alcohol, as implied by its moniker. Specifically, it mentions possession and consumption of unsealed alcoholic beverages while in a car. The word “open” here (“unsealed”) ostensibly refers to the ability of the beverage to be dispensed and not its visual exposure. I’m no lawyer, but this seems to indicate that if you’re caught driving with an open beer, the fact that it’s in a plastic bag probably won’t help you. Attorneys that I have contacted have also been unable to find any Georgia law requiring beer or liquor sold at a retail store to be bagged.
This confusion is so widespread that some states, including California and Michigan, have gone so far as to issue official statements informing the public that the requirements do not originate from the state or local government, but from the retail establishments themselves. Georgia could do the same, but relevant organizations like the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association could also address this issue without any need for government intervention; the intended result would not necessarily be the banning of bags, but the elimination of widespread forced bagging and the notion that establishments need to supply bags.
When such confusion is allowed to persist, all parties involved fall victim to the needless costs generated by this undying urban legend. This is especially true for those businesses without self-imposed bagging dictates who simply participate based on the notion that they have a state-mandated obligation. Necessarily, costs for providing bags are certain to remain high for retailers when their use is considered to be mandatory. Furthermore, as these costs are passed onto the consumer in the form of increased product prices, it is inherently unfair to customers who bring reusable bags or simply don’t use one. Those that bring their own bags are essentially paying for plastic bags they don’t even use. The Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Council of Governments estimates that the hidden cost of bags is over $37 per person per year, while stores typically spend about $1,000 to $6,000 on bags monthly.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s estimated that between less than 1 percent and up to 3 percent of plastic bags consumed are actually recycled. The situation is especially disappointing considering that Americans are estimated to dispose of 100 billion plastic bags per year. Many of the bags end up in landfills and their costly disposal is paid for by taxpayers. Such a lack of awareness regarding bagging policy is proving to be devastating for the environment, especially when considering the impact of plastic pollution on our coasts and oceans.
Top 10 Waste Materials Found on Coasts
(Ocean Conservancy, 2016)
Still feeling bag ambivalence? Inspirationgreen.com has compiled quite a few more details you may want to consider, some of which are:
- There is now six times more plastic debris in parts of the North Pacific Ocean than zooplankton (acfnewsource.org)
- Scientists estimate that every square mile of ocean contains about 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. Researchers have found that plastic debris acts like a sponge for toxic chemicals, soaking up a million fold greater concentration (than surrounding water) of such deadly compounds as PCBs and DDE and becoming highly toxic to marine animals which frequently consume these particles (sprep.org)
- Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to break down, so even when an animal dies and decays after ingesting a bag, the plastic re-enters the environment, posing a continuing threat to wildlife (worldwatch.org)
- The amount of petroleum required to create just 14 plastic bags would be sufficient to drive a car an entire mile (sprep.org)
And if you think that doesn’t affect those of you that consume the fruits of the sea, think again. These hormone-disrupting, carcinogenic toxins are carried up the food chain and onto your plate.
Of course, some establishments may still insist on bagging your alcohol for indeterminate reasons attributed to some unnamed company policy. Some have even conjectured about the rationale behind such requirements, struggling to inject an ounce of logic into the situation.
Could it be…
- Glass shard containment in case a beverage is dropped? If so, this policy should not apply to aluminum cans.
- Establishment of proof of purchase? Cameras, receipts, and merchandise stickers could easily accomplish this.
- Privacy? In my experience, twelve-packs of beer (or greater) do not require bags. Is this to suggest that my need for privacy decreases as my beer increases?
Considering all this, it makes no sense that a customer lacks the right to refuse a bag. By reducing the careless dissemination of plastic bags, everyone involved benefits. This proposal to end policies and practices that result in the mandatory bagging of alcoholic beverage purchases would be to the utmost benefit of the retailer, the customer, and the environment.
What You Can Do
If you disagree with wasteful plastic consumption, make a habit of bringing a reusable bag with you whenever you go shopping. Make of point of refusing to place your purchases in plastic bags.
If a clerk tells you they have to bag your alcoholic beverage, ask to speak to the manager and inquire as to whether this is a store policy or a legal requirement. If it is store policy, find out whether the policy indicates that a customer is required to bag alcohol in order to purchase it and, if so, take your business elsewhere. Politely inform them as to why you disagree with this practice. If they cite a local (or state) law, write it down and let us know!
Are you aware of any local laws or policies in Georgia that relate to the bagging of alcoholic beverages? Let us know in the comments!