The 2020 Legislature passed a statewide plastic bag ban that takes effect January 1, 2021.
The Department of Ecology has been charged with education, implementation, and enforcement of the new law. This week I attended a call with agency staff and 30 other stakeholders.
The ban effects all single use, thin plastic bags – with the exception of compostable plastic bags and small item bags for bulk goods – such as bakery, meat, and produce. Retailers are allowed to sell paper bags made from 40% post-consumer products and thick plastic bags at least 2.25 mils and 20% post-consumer products. Retailers must charge 8 cents per bag and they retain the fee.
Cities with a 10-cent fee are grandfathered in. The fee does not apply to individuals on state assistance programs. Customer-provided reusable bags do not incur a fee – however there are concerns about cleanliness and spreading viruses with dirty bags affecting both employee and customer safety. Many retailers have suspended the use of reusable bags during the pandemic or are requiring customers to pack their own goods in the bags.
Ecology is developing materials for use by businesses that use bags. They will be available on the department’s website the first part of October. The department will enforce the law on a complaint driven basis. Fines are $250 per violation. The agency plans to work with businesses to gain compliance and avoid fines.
Industry representatives, including myself, raised concerns about supply and availability of bags – especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps a delay in implementation is in order? Discussions continue.