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Jan. 20, 2021

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Washington House sacks plastic bag ban

Sponsor vows to reintroduce bill next session

By , Columbian Business Editor
2 Photos
A reusable plastic bag is for sale at the end of a checkout counter at the Vancouver Grocery Outlet in March.
A reusable plastic bag is for sale at the end of a checkout counter at the Vancouver Grocery Outlet in March. Nathan Howard/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Gov. Jay Inslee signed five environment protection bills in Seattle on Tuesday.

None of them, however, included a statewide ban on retailers dispensing common plastic shopping bags.

Senate Bill 5323 made it out of the Democrat-controlled Senate and appeared poised to earn approval in the Democrat-controlled House before shipment to Inslee, a Democrat, who supported the legislation.

But it died in the House in the closing hours of the legislative session, which concluded April 28. The Senate bill’s sponsor blamed the pulp and paper industry for blocking the bill and vowed to revive the proposal next year. A pulp and paper industry spokesman acknowledged its opposition but said it would support a better plastic bag-ban bill.

The proposal, similar to another introduced in 2013, would have banned single-use plastic carryout bags and required retailers to charge for recycled or reusable bags. Bags available inside stores for things such as fruits and vegetables, bulk foods and loose parts like hardware pieces were exempt. Stores would have had until 2020 to use up existing stocks.

That bag charge would have been imposed to encourage the use of reusable bags and that’s what appears to have been the key point of contention.

“I was very disappointed,” Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, told The Columbian on Tuesday, about the bill’s failure. “I’m still really passionate about this bill and protecting the environment.”

Das, a freshman senator who is a member of the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee, said she thought approval of a statewide plastic bag ban would have been most challenging in the Senate. “I didn’t realize the House would be an issue,” she said.

Das noted the Senate approved the bill with the votes of four Republicans, including Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

The American Forest & Paper Association opposed the Senate bill throughout its path through the Legislature, primarily because of the fee that would have been charged to consumers who asked for a paper bag.

“We do not think consumers should have to pay a penalty to use our product,” said Terry Webber, the association’s executive director for packaging.

Webber, noting the environmental superiority of paper over plastic, said the association would “support a better bill,” one that did not include a per-bag surcharge.

The Legislature’s failure disappointed the co-owners of the Vancouver Grocery Outlet, 5800 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., which independently stopped using plastic bags earlier this year.

“This should have been a slam dunk piece of legislation,” co-owners Carlos Rodriguez Vega and Ken Cole said in an email to The Columbian. “We don’t have to rely on lawmakers to make a difference. Individual businesses, jurisdictions, and people can move ahead with their own efforts to ban the use of plastic bags and other plastics.”