Plastic grocery bags could be a thing of the past in Washington if the Legislature goes along with proposals announced Wednesday as a way to cut down on plastic pollution in the oceans.
The House and Senate will each get legislation introduced to ban single-use plastic bags at grocery and other retail stores in an effort to get shoppers to switch to reusable bags. Those who forget their reusable bags would be able to get paper bags at the checkout lane – for a dime each.
Western Washington already has a patchwork of individual ordinances restricting plastic bags or encouraging reusable ones in 22 cities and one county.
Sen. Kevin Ranker, an Orcas Island Democrat who intends to sponsor the Senate bill, said he expects the legislation to create a statewide policy to pre-empt the different local ordinances, which have been enacted over the last nine years.
“Citizens and local governments are out in front on this,” Ranker said.
Plans for the bills were announced Wednesday at the Seattle Aquarium as a way to underscore plastic pollution in the oceans, although final versions haven’t been written. The Legislature doesn’t start until Jan. 14, and bills can’t be filed before December. But plans are for the ban to focus on single-use, so-called “T-shirt” bags which have two loops for handles, but exempt smaller bags used for produce, prescription drugs, or nails, or to wrap newspapers or dry cleaning.
The bags make their way into streams, rivers and oceans where are sometimes eaten by sea turtles that mistake them for jellyfish, or break into smaller pieces but don’t biodegrade, and are eaten by other species. They are often among the most common items found in beach cleanups, Gus Gates, Washington policy manager for the Surfrider Foundation, said at the press conference.
Ranker, who was named chairman of the Senate Environment and Tourism Committee later Wednesday, said the plastic bag ban will be part of a “year of the environment” push in the session that would also include protection for orcas and a push for low-carbon fuels.
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