Single-use plastic bag ban went into effect on October 1
Stores will have reusable plastic or paper bags available for purchase at the register, consumers encouraged to bring their own reusable bags
October 7, 2021
OLYMPIA—After more than a year delay, a statewide single-use plastic bag ban went into effect on Friday, October 1, for Washington’s retail, restaurant, and grocery stores. Washington joins eight states, including Hawaii, California, and Oregon, and multiple cities across the country in efforts to reduce plastic consumption and pollution.
The state legislation passed in 2020 and was set to go into effect in January 2021. The delay was caused by limited access to compatible bag materials. Like the ones used at grocery store checkouts, single-use plastic bags are a significant source of pollution in forests, waterways, grasslands, and even urban areas. According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, the bags are not easily recycled because they clog sorting machinery, which risks injury to workers. Reducing their use will protect the state’s rivers and streams, help its recycling system run more efficiently, and contribute to a growing waste reduction and reuse culture.
The single-use bag restriction applies to all retail, grocery, or convenience stores, restaurants offering take-out or delivery food or goods, temporary stores and vendors, and any event where food or goods are sold or distributed.
On October 1, stores began to charge at least $0.08 for large paper bags or the thicker, reusable plastic bags. Both materials must meet a threshold of post-consumer recycled content and cannot be labeled as degradable, decomposable, or biodegradable. The small charge is not a tax but is kept by the merchant or vendor to help cover the cost of eco-friendly shopping bags.
The legislation requires paper bag content to be made of at least 40% post-consumer recycled content. A bill sponsored by Rep. Skylar Rude (R-Walla Walla) unanimously passed by both the House and Senate allows straw pulp to be used to manufacture acceptable paper bags.
The heavier, reusable plastic film bags must be made of at least 20% post-consumer materials and must be at least 2.5 millimeters thick. Oregon implemented similar legislation earlier this year, and the bags available for purchase in the state are good for roughly 125 uses. That makes the bag usable for more than two years of grocery shopping if you use the bags once a week.
Store owners may choose whether they will charge shoppers for the bags. Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own shopping bags or reuse the new heavier plastic bags.
Some plastic bags, including those used to bag produce or bulk items, are exempt from the law. According to the Department of Ecology, people who receive food stamps, SNAP, WIC, or other government assistance do not have to pay for bags at checkout.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, some businesses may ask shoppers to bag their groceries if they are using their own bags, but currently there are no restrictions regarding using customer-provided shopping bags.
For more information regarding the new bag ban, visit https://tinyurl.com/2hnya35p.