WA’s plastic bag ban begins October 1, adds bag fee
Start tucking all those tote bags in the trunk: Washington state’s ban on single-use plastic bags goes into effect Oct. 1, and with it, a mandatory cost of 8 cents for most other bags that can be purchased in a grocery store, boutique or restaurant.
Now there are approved bags – some are chargeable and some are not – and there are banned bags, with the long-term goal of drastically reducing the amount of non-recyclable plastic in our waste streams and yards. ‘water.
Many cities in the state have already banned single-use plastics, including Seattle, Olympia, Tacoma, and Gig Harbor. Some, like Bellingham, have decided to extend the ban to all single-use plastics, including straws and silverware.
State Bill 5323 was passed in the 2020 legislative session, but its effective date was delayed from January 1, 2021, due to pandemic supply chain issues.
Here’s what to know as the statewide bag ban and associated fees take off.
What types of bags are chargeable?
You’ll pay at least 8 cents for large paper bags, like those with handles that have already replaced plastic in some grocery stores, and thicker, reusable plastic bags. In either case, these bags must meet a post-consumer recycled content threshold and cannot be labeled as biodegradable, degradable or decomposable.
Real compostable bags – made from corn or other plant-derived material – are allowed, but retailers can choose whether or not to charge the customer. While Seattle has a commercial composting facility that accepts compostable packaging, most municipalities do not. Tacoma Public Utilities, for example, does not accept compostable utility items in its food and garden bins.
What about production bags for lettuce and the like?
Plastic product bags, often used for bulk foods or to cover meat wrappers, and small paper bags such as lunch bags are excluded from the tariff structure.
It goes without saying, but you will not be charged for the use of your own bags.
Aren’t some retailers just going to eat the price for me, to be nice?
No. Retailers are required by law to show charges on receipts, and they are taxable, according to the state Revenue Department.
It is also a minimum load required, said Dave Bennett, communications manager for the Washington State Department of Ecology’s solid waste team, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation and enforcement of the new law. This means that retailers could, in effect, charge whatever they want – he’s already seen fees of up to 25 cents.
“These minimum charges help the trader recoup the cost of these more durable bags, but it’s also an incentive for customers to bring their own,” he said a week before the effective date of the October 1st. “Bring your bag: this is where we want the change in the audience. It is not a tax; it’s a sale.
Are there any exceptions?
Yes, but they are limited to both consumers and retailers.
The only buyers excluded from the fee structure are those who pay with employee benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Washington State Food Assistance Program.
The only exempt “retailers” are food banks or similar support organizations.
What about curbside pickup or restaurant delivery?
There are no exceptions for situations where bags are seemingly unavoidable, such as curbside grocery pickup or food delivered from a restaurant.
By eliminating single-use bags from the retail ecosystem, Bennet said, the state hopes people will reconsider whether they really need a bag then, for that purpose. A new pair of shorts, for example, could easily slip into a purse or backpack already on your shoulder.
The law also requires that bags used to transport items, such as groceries or take-out boxes, become reusable.
“Our goal right now is to make these bags fulfill their purpose of reuse,” Bennett said, adding that with change comes an opportunity for new systems that are both more environmentally friendly and more convenient for the public.
One day, for example, one solution might be to check a box when ordering groceries online to exchange the bags for the boxes that retailers have on hand when receiving shipments.
What should I do with those “reusable plastic bags” when I’m done with them?
Reuse them as many times as you can – they’re meant to be an alternative to fragile plastic bags that tear easily and then end up piling up in landfills, floating in rivers, or clogging recycling sorting systems.
By Washington law, they must be made with at least 20% post-consumer recycled content (40% by July 2022) and be at least 2.25 millimeters thick. Likewise, paper bags should be made from at least 40 percent recycled content and, if they are dry and free of grease, they can then go into the recycling bin.
With most plastic bags out of date, Bennet said, there are only two things you should do with them: 1) Drop them off at a collection point if there is one near you. you ; or 2) Throw them away.
They are simply not recyclable and, like any thin plastic bag, pose a hazard to workers and contaminate otherwise viable recycled materials.
Will stores throw away all the thin plastic bags still in their possession?
“We want them to use whatever inventory they have on hand,” Bennett said, adding that they can bill customers for them if they wish.
He warned the Ecology Department did not want retailers rushing to stock up on banned bags until Oct. 1, and the agency expects to file complaints of non-compliance with the ban at single use as retailers deplete their existing stock.
The agency will follow up on these and all complaints filed online at ecology.wa.gov/bagban, with initial action focused on awareness and education.
Under a grace period of indefinite end, Bennett predicts that the further we go from October 1, 2021, the fewer single-use plastic bags will be in the retail flow – and the more people there will be. will notice them.
“It’s going to take a while,” he said.
This story was originally published September 27, 2021 5:00 a.m.