Plastic Bag Ban Comes to Washington this October

On October 1, a single use plastic bag ban will begin in Washington, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology. The ban was scheduled to begin in January of this year, but an emergency proclamation delayed the ban due to supply issues with compliant bags. The law applies to retail, grocery, and convenience stores, restaurants, temporary stores and any event where goods are sold. 
 
Jay Inslee rescinded the emergency proclamation on July 13. The alternatives to single use bags will be reusable bags, paper bags that are made with at least 40% recycled content, plastic carryout bags made of at least 20% recycled content that are at least 2.25 mm thick, and compostable bags. 
 
Exemptions to the plastic bag ban include packaging used inside stores for bulk items, produce, frozen food, meat, fish, flowers, potted plants, prepared foods, bakery foods and prescription drugs, according to Ecology. Additionally, bags sold in packages with multiple bags, like food storage, garbage, or pet waste are exempt from the ban. 
 
Additionally, there will be an 8 cent fee charged per bag which will be kept entirely by the merchant to provide an incentive for consumers to bring their own bag and help businesses recover the cost of providing the bags, according to Ecology. Food banks and individuals receiving government assistance are exempt from the fee. 
 
Shannon Jones, Materials Management Coordinator for the Department of Ecology, said that she has not received any direct feedback from stores about the plastic bag ban but manufacturers are still having some issues manufacturing compliant bags. 
 
Jones said that there are a number of different bag manufacturers and suppliers in various states. The reason for the supply chain issues was due to masks being manufactured for the coronavirus pandemic. While compostable bags are an option, most places do not have the composting infrastructure in place to handle composting. 
 
King County is the only place that has the composting infrastructure in place, Jones said. In the rest of the state, compliant bags can be made of recycled paper, thick plastic, or weed straw. The paper bags have to be marked with their percentage of recycled content. The reason that the thicker plastic bags are allowed is they are designed for multiple uses. 
 
The enforcement strategy for the plastic bag ban is based on complaints they receive from the public, Jones said. But businesses won’t be fined for non-compliance right away. Businesses will be contacted with educational letters, personal contact, and a number of other communication strategies before receiving any monetary penalty. 
 
The law was passed in response to a growing concern about plastic litter, Jones said.  Additionally, in the recycling stream plastic bags cause a lot of contamination that can significantly impact the entire recycling system.  
 
Another reason a state law was passed was to create a universal bag ban, Jones said. There are 39 bag ban ordinances at multiple locations across the state which all have minor differences, which is difficult for businesses with multiple locations around the state and travelers to navigate.
 
There should be enough time for businesses to adjust to the plastic bag ban, Jones said. The October 1 decision for the ban was made by the governor’s office in conjunction with industry groups like the Washington Hospitality Association and the Washington Food Industry Association. 
 
Wes Worthen, one of the owners of Dan's Food Market in Leavenworth, said that Dan’s will likely start liquidating all their single use plastic bags and stocking up on reusable bags in September. He said that it likely won't be an issue to buy compliant bags and they haven’t had issues getting grocery bags in the past.
 
“It's kind of one of those things that we're not there yet. It's like, we'll have to cross that bridge when we get there,” he said.
 
Some customers may be irked by the plastic bag ban, Worthen said, while others will be really glad because it is good for the environment. He said that it may be a struggle for a while to adjust but that the rules apply to everyone in the state so people will figure it out. 
 
Worthen said that he hopes that Dan’s will be able to recoup the costs for the compliant bags with the required fee. Paper bags cost Dan's about ten cents each and they are currently giving them out for free. Worthen doesn’t want to anger any customers with the fee, but thinks that people will adjust. 
 
“In this business we can't afford to tick off any customers so there [will] be a while there where it will take some getting used to,” he said 
 
Other countries have mandated bag bans already, Worthen said, and that is just the way it goes. He said that Dan’s is “happy to do what we can” to protect the planet because a lot of plastic ends up in the ocean but that there is a debate about which type of bag is worst for the environment. 
 
“Obviously, anything plastic is awful for the environment, but there is speculation and research out there that canvas bags and paper bags can be just as harmful if not more harmful than plastic,” he said.
 
Worthen said that deciding the most environmentally friendly bag just depends on what you read or who you listen to. At the same time, he said that his grocery store is going to be compliant with the law and “do what we can.”
 

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