ENVIRONMENT

State-wide ban on single-use plastic bags now in effect

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With increasing concerns about environmental pollution, the state legislature issued a ban on single-use plastic. It also imposed corresponding fees for using other types of shopping bags effective last Fri., Oct. 1, 2021. 

Each year, the Washington Department of Ecology (DES) estimates that around two billion single-use plastic bags are within the state. These bags often impose a problem in the recycling system and carry toxic chemicals which can be harmful to the environment.

As a result, the state legislature enacted Chapter 70A.530 RCW which prohibited business establishments from using single-use plastic bags, and allow retailers to impose corresponding fees for other types of bags in stores, restaurants, takeout establishments, festivals, and markets.

The ban was approved in 2020 but temporarily put on hold after Gov. Jay Inslee delayed its implementation for lack of supply and due to concerns about how COVID-19 is transmitted.

Allowable bags

While single-use plastic bags are prohibited, the state allows other types of bags, although they carry corresponding fees.

Some of the allowable bags include:

  • Thick-reusable plastic bags: Stores are required to impose a $0.08 charge for reusable bags. These bags must also indicate their mil thickness and be labeled with the word “reusable.”
  • Large paper carryout bags: Retailer can impose a $0.08 charge for bags which measures 882 cubic inches or larger. These bags must be made of at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content or wheat straw. Its percentage must also be indicated on the bag.
  • Small paper bags: Retailers are not required to impose charges on small paper bags. Just like the large paper bags, they must be manufactured from 40 percent post-consumer recycled content or wheat straw and clearly labeled with content percentages.
  • Plastic produce bag: These types of single-use plastic bags are exempted from the ban.
  • Compostable bags: The state does not recommend the use of compostable plastic bags since some commercial composting facilities do not accept compostable bags.

Lots more loopholes

The law allows single-use plastic bags for a wide variety of applications, including:

  • Inside the store: these include ones used to package bulk items such as produce like fruits, vegetables, and grains, small hardware items like nails and bolts, or greeting cards.
  •  For sanitation: these include bags used to wrap damp items such as frozen food, meat, fish, and other uses such as packaging bakery goods, prescription drugs and potted plants.
  • Others: the exemption also covers bags used to deliver printed newspapers, mailing pouches, sealed envelopes, door hanger bags, laundry/dry cleaning bags, or bags sold in packages containing multiple bags for food storage, garbage, or pet waste.

Prohibited bags

Green or brown plastic produce bags are also prohibited, save for the use of green or brown compostable bags. The state also prohibits retailers from using misleading labels such as “biodegradable," "decomposable," "degradable."

Establishments that fail to comply with the prohibition may face a $250 charge.

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