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Statewide plastic-bag ban faces likely delay due to COVID-19, supply-chain issues

Elaine Thompson
The Associated Press
Donnie McGowan grabs plastic bags of groceries at the M Street Grocery in Seattle in August 2009.

A statewide ban on single-use plastic bags is supposed to take effect on Jan. 1. But proponents are asking for a six-month delay.

In a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, they cite supply-chain issues and health concerns related to COVID-19. Seven groups who supported the law have signed on to the request.

Restaurants say that going ahead with the ban would be an additional burden, when they're figuring out how to remain in business doing mostly take-out orders. And grocery stores say they’ve had trouble getting enough of the thicker plastic and paper bags they would need under the new law.

“So it's that combination of supply chain, the suspension of the use of reusable totes and most of our stores, and then bigger competing marketplace for what we have that's just created the situation,” said Holly Chisa with the Northwest Grocery Association.

Heather Trim is with Zero Waste Washington, which has fought hard for the ban.

“You know, it's a six-month delay and it's only if it is COVID-related. … So, strictly if it's supply issues and it's documented [that] it's related to COVID," she said.

Trim’s group has supported efforts to ban thin plastic single-use bags in dozens of jurisdictions around Washington. That resulted in a statewide ban, approved by the state Legislature in March because of community momentum and the desire of retail chains to have a single, uniform policy. Washington was the ninth state in the nation to implement this kind of regulation.

The ban on thin plastics gained support because they wreak havoc on recycling equipment – getting tangled up in gears and causing costly repairs and delays – as well for their impact on marine wildlife, when the bags fly out of landfills and into the ocean and other waterways.

Normally this kind of regulation would create demand for new products. And part of the Washington law is sourcing paper bags from the local paper industry, an aspect that helped bring support from rural areas. But the groups requesting the delay say the pandemic has put a strain on the supply of plastics nationwide as well as the local paper supply.

Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee says the governor is aware of the request and “will be briefed on it this week.”

“We understand the concerns and will make a decision very soon,” she added.

The governor can implement a 30-day delay on the law’s implementation; the full six months would have to be approved by the Legislature after the session begins in January.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to