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Legislature considers statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at retailers

Jeff Barnard
The Associated Press
In this Jan. 28, 2011 photo, plastic bags filled with groceries sit in a cart at the Fred Meyer store in Grants Pass, Oregon. The Washington Legislature is considering a statewide ban on plastic check-out bags at retail stores statewide.

One of the top issues for environmental groups this legislative session is the pollution caused by thin, single-use plastic bags. They fly out of landfills into waterways, harming marine life and water quality. They also gum up recycling machinery and contaminate commercial compost.

So, Washington's Environmental Priorities Coalition is pushing for a statewide ban on the bags.

Shoppers would instead have to bring their own totes or pay a fee for paper bags or reusable plastic ones, much as they already do in 27 local jurisdictions. The next hearing on the legislation is Thursday morning in Olympia.

Washington’s proposal is modeled after a similar ban in California. Hawaii also effectively has a statewide ban, though it has been enacted by each island individually. Many other states, including Oregon and New York, are considering similar legislation.

The bill that's moving through Washington state’s Legislature would ban the use of thin plastic bags at checkout stands and also increase the bag fee to 10 cents each, up from 5 cents in many places.

Heather Trim is executive director of the nonprofit group Zero Waste Washington, one of the primary sponsors of the bill.

"We support the 10-cent charge, because we want people to bring their own bag – and so that’s the motivator,” Trim said, adding that although it was a good starting point, they’re not sure the 5-cent charge was enough of a driver. Doubling the fee could help people remember to bring their own reusable totes.

“But also it helps make the small ‘mom and pop’ stores whole," she said.

The fee, which retailers get to keep, would cover most of the costs.

Several large grocery chains have come out in favor of the statewide proposal, saying it would simplify their procedures.

But the pulp and paper industry is opposing it, saying it could lead to job losses, as more people bring their own bags.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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