Paper or plastic? Washington lawmakers pass statewide ban on single-use plastic bags | KNKX

Paper or plastic? Washington lawmakers pass statewide ban on single-use plastic bags

Mar 11, 2020

Washington is poised to become the ninth state in the nation to ban the use of thin plastic bags in retail sales. After passing both chambers of the Legislature with strong bipartisan support, it was signed by the president of the state Senate on Wednesday.  

Passage of this measure was one of four top goals set this legislative session by the statewide Environmental Priorities Coalition

Heather Trim with Zero Waste Washington has been one of the bag ban’s biggest advocates. She says there's growing awareness for how single-use plastics pollute our waterways. As they degrade, they become micro-plastics that can poison marine life and birds.  

“Secondly, there’s a great deal of public concern about our recycling crisis. And the thin plastics, which are banned by this – and film – are a major problem in our recycling facilities,” says Trim.

She explains the thin plastic can wrap around rollers clog the system.

"So they seriously degrade the ability of the facility to sort all the different materials,” Trim said

If Gov. Jay Inslee signs the bill as expected, it will require all retailers to charge a fee of 8 cents for paper or plastic bags needed at the till, starting in June.

The fee is meant to encourage shoppers to bring reusable totes and will go directly back to the retailers, to reimburse them for the extra costs. Thirty-eight local jurisdictions in the state already ban the thin plastic bags. In some places, the bag fee will actually go down by 2 cents.   


In 2026, the law also mandates a switch to an even thicker, more durable plastic bag and an even higher fee.

Holly Chisa is with the Northwest Grocery Association, which represents larger chains such as Fred Meyer and Safeway. She says the higher fee was important to smaller chains and independent grocers because the thicker bags will be more expensive.

"We do go up to 12 cents on the plastic bags, once that switch is made, to help offset those costs and help those smaller stores be able to make the change," Chisa said.

That higher fee for plastic helped seal the deal with representatives of the paper and pulp industry, who fear they'll see a drop in sales for paper bags. In 2026, the fee for paper will stay at 8 cents, which they hope will mean more sales of paper bags over plastic.

Another provision in the bill would help expand production capacity for more bags at local paper mills. And there’s a section that says retailers will encourage customers to choose paper over plastic.