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Plastic grocery bag ban in Washington advances

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 26, 2019

Courtesy Clerk Scott Mares, right, bags groceries on Friday, February 1, 2019, at Rosauers Supermarkets' 14th & Lincoln location in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Courtesy Clerk Scott Mares, right, bags groceries on Friday, February 1, 2019, at Rosauers Supermarkets' 14th & Lincoln location in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
By Ryan Blake The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – The cost of a statewide ban on plastic bags would be shared by stores and customers – but mainly by customers, a Senate committee agreed Monday.

A bill, which would ban single use plastic bags, would require stores to charge customers 10 cents for paper bags as replacements.

Stores pay as much as 12 cents for paper bags compared to 2 cents for plastic, said Jan Gee, president and CEO of the Washington Food Industry Association. The fee is needed to help stores offset that additional cost, Gee told the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

“Bags cost money,” she said.

Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, pushed back on the bag fee, arguing customers would be paying for the cost of the ban.

But even with a fee, Rosauers Supermarkets, Inc., which supports the bill, would see $19,000 added to their costs each year, Gee estimated.

“Bags aren’t cheap business,” she said.

The bill would unify various bag bans around state. A single state-mandated ban would replace 27 existing city and county bag ordinances. Most of the existing laws charge 5 cents for a bag.

The fee is effective in encouraging people to bring reusable bags, said Holly Chisa, who represents the Northwest Grocers Association.

“When you make the move from plastic to paper and you put the fee on, you see a hard spike in the use of paper,” Chisa said. “Then there is a drop as everybody starts to make that behavioral change.”

The 10-cent bag fee is greedy, said Bill Stauffacher, representing the American Forest and Paper Association, which opposes the bill and the projected drop in paper bag usage it might precipitate.

“We know it. We feel it. We see it,” he said. “This is a direct shot at rural jobs.”

The Office of Financial Management estimates the state would generate $10 million in sales tax each biennium from paper bag sales.

In other action, the committee held hearings on two other bills involving plastics. One calls for an office in the Department of Ecology to help research and implement recycling around the state; another would require a study of ways to manage and dispose of plastic packaging.

“We are not just filling the oceans with plastic. We are swimming in plastics in our homes,” Committee Chairwoman Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said.

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