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Sept. 27, 2020

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In Our View: House must back ban of single-use plastic bags

The Columbian
Published:

The state House has an opportunity this session to correct a mistake it made last year when it failed to approve a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

The Senate made quick work of approving the ban Jan. 15 with the support of Sen. Annette Cleveland of Vancouver. Republicans Lynda Wilson of Vancouver and Ann Rivers of La Center opposed the bill. Interestingly, Rivers supported the plastic-bag ban in the previous session.

The ban stalled in the House during the last session after Senate approval. Even though the bill had broad support, including from the state’s grocers, it was tripped up by opposition from the American Forest & Paper Association, which makes paper bags. The organization dislikes the 8-cent fee stores would have to charge for each paper bag, fearing customers would reject their products.

We believe their fears are misplaced. Eight cents is a small price to pay for a bag that is reusable if handled sensibly. (Those who use SNAP or WIC food benefits would not be charged the bag fee.) We think most shoppers will appreciate the environmental responsibility it reflects. As The Stranger of Seattle noted Jan. 16: “Though the paper bag people don’t like the bill, the idea of banning plastic bags enjoys broad support. A new poll from the Northwest Progressive Institute found that 69 percent of Washington voters think we should ban the bags, which is … nice. It also just makes sense. Thirty-seven jurisdictions in Washington already ban plastic bags, so it’s not like this will be a big cultural shift.”

That is an important point. Clark County residents who shop across the Columbia River are already accustomed to the plastic bag ban that has been in effect in Portland since 2011, and went statewide in Oregon at the beginning of the year. Some local stores, such as Grocery Outlet and Chuck’s, have already taken it upon themselves to eschew single-use plastic bags in favor of paper.

This isn’t some nanny state overreach; as we’ve editorialized previously, single-use plastics are the biggest contributor to the growing environmental crisis of plastic pollution. According to Environment Washington’s website, plastic “poses a serious threat to whales, seals, turtles, salmon and all of Puget Sound’s wildlife. Too much of the trash comes from single-use plastic bags, which can choke, suffocate or kill thousands of whales, birds and other marine wildlife each year. We saw the effects of this last year when a beached gray whale was found in West Seattle with 20 plastic bags in its stomach. Nothing we use for a few minutes should end up in the belly of a whale.

“Yet 2 billion plastic bags are distributed annually throughout Washington state, and nationwide, less than 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled.”

Since our federal government, unlike leaders in other countries, has neglected to address plastic pollution on a national basis, it’s up to states to act. Considering how important this issue is to Washington’s environment and wildlife, it should be a no-brainer for the House to join the Senate in approving the ban on single-use plastics. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mona Das of Kent, was caught off-guard last year by the House’s failure to support her measure, but told The Stranger that she believes the past will not repeat itself this session.

We hope Das is right. The House should make right its failure last year to respect the broad support the bill enjoys and approve her measure. It’s past time to ban single-use plastic bags.

Editor’s note: This editorial has been updated to correct that single-use plastics are the biggest contributor to plastic pollution, not single-use plastic bags specifically.

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