Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Jan. 18, 2022

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In Our View: Time to get a handle on state’s plastic bag ban

The Columbian

Single-use plastic bags are finally on their way out in Washington. Everyone who cares about our environment and wildlife should be glad to see them go.

The Legislature approved the ban during its 2020 session. It was originally set to go into effect in January of this year, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fair enough. COVID-related backups in supply chains prevented retailers from acquiring some of the reusable bags state law says they must instead provide. In addition, concerns about COVID fueled hesitation for reusable bags.

Those issues have largely been addressed, and the ban will take effect Oct. 1.

That is a full 10 years, incidentally, since our neighbor to the south, Portland, outlawed single-use plastic bags in grocery stores. Oregon passed a statewide ban in 2019.

According to the state Department of Ecology’s website, Washingtonians use 2 billion single-use plastic bags every year — including newspaper bags. The bags cannot be easily recycled because they clog up machines used in the process. The bags contain chemicals that are toxic if released into the environment, and pollution from plastics poses both physical and chemical threats to our marine environment.

Starting Oct. 1, single-use plastic bags will be prohibited in all retail and grocery stores, restaurants, takeout establishments, festivals and markets, Ecology says.

In addition, merchants will be required to charge 8 cents per bag for all recycled content paper carry-out bags and reusable carry-out bags made of film plastic. That charge also applies to bags used in curbside pickup. The fee is kept by retailers to help them offset the cost of stocking reusable bags.

It should be noted, the Department of Ecology says, that the 8-cent-per-bag fee will not be charged to those using a voucher or electronic benefits card, including those receiving benefits from Women, Infants and Children, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Food Assistance Program.

Stores will still be allowed to provide plastic film bags for meat or fruit at no charge, as well as smaller paper bags. Several other types of bags such as newspaper and dry cleaning bags are still permitted with no fee, and the same goes for any bags sold in bulk, such as trash bags or pet waste bags.

The transition to reusable bags shouldn’t be a challenge to most shoppers. As we noted above, anyone who’s been shopping in Portland the past 10 years is already familiar with the practice.

In addition, several businesses in Clark County, including Costco, New Seasons and Chuck’s Produce, have all exclusively used paper bags or other alternatives for a long time. Grocery Outlet also ditched single-use plastic bags ahead of the state’s ban. WinCo gives customers credit toward their bill for each of their own bags they use when buying groceries.

Nearly 40 Washington jurisdictions have already banned single-use plastic bags, and a statewide standard simply makes sense for customers and retailers. Nothing that we use for 10 minutes should pollute the environment for decades.

So invest in a few sturdy cloth bags, save those good paper bags with handles and hang on to the heavy-duty plastic bags already used by some retailers. The state’s plastic bag ban is coming, and you want to be ready.