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Washington Legislature begins debate on banning single-use plastic grocery bags

This Aug. 3, 2009, photo shows clerk Allison Ure lifting groceries she's bagged in a plastic sack at the M Street Grocery in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
This Aug. 3, 2009, photo shows clerk Allison Ure lifting groceries she's bagged in a plastic sack at the M Street Grocery in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Ryan Blake The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – Stores across Washington may soon be banned from providing customers with single-use plastic bags as part of efforts to reduce ocean pollution.

A bill heard Monday by the House Energy and Environment Committee would allow customers to purchase paper and reusable plastic bags for 10 cents each as a way to encourage reusing bags. The fee, to be printed on receipts, is intended to help stores offset the cost of bags.

Plastic bags already have been banned from 27 cities in Washington. The bill would replace the local laws, but would allow cities to raise the bag fee.

Holly Chisa, who represents the Northwest Grocery Association, said the organization tentatively supports the bill. Cities that have banned plastic bags have seen them almost completely eliminated, she said.

“If your goal is to reduce bags across the board, this is the method that does it. It’s about an 85 percent total bag reduction,” Chisa said.

The fee is necessary to level the playing field for smaller stores, she said. In cities that did not charge a bag fee, stores saw costs rise between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, she said.

San Juan County Councilman Rick Hughes objected to the fee, saying that locale’s 2017 ordinance doesn’t require a fee. If the law passes, county stores would have to add one, he said.

The bill targets single-use plastic carryout bags, but not plastic bags used for produce and other items. Paper bags would have to be compostable and contain 40 percent recycled materials. Reusable carryout bags, including those made of film plastic, must be able to be used 125 times, able to be cleaned and made of 40 percent recycled material.

Food banks and food assistance programs would not be covered under the regulation, but would be encouraged to reduce single-use bags. People who use electronic benefit cards for a purchase would not be charged for a bag.

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