People who’ve been trying to develop the habit of bringing their own reusable bags to the store will get some help from Washington state. Single-use plastic bags – and paper bags that don’t contain enough recycled paper – will be banned for groceries and other purchases starting Jan. 1.
There are some exceptions. Bags for bulk items such as fruit and vegetables, nuts and grains, candy, and small hardware items like nails and screws will be permitted. Plastic bags can also be used for unwrapped prepared foods or bakery items, or to wrap items such as meat, fish and frozen foods. Bags for prescription drugs are exempted.
Bags for newspapers, laundry and dry cleaning, pet waste, and retail packages of food-storage and garbage bags are also allowed.
Stores must charge a fee for the heavier-duty, reusable bags they will be allowed to provide. Each bag will cost 8 cents through the end of 2025. The charge goes up to 12 cents the next year.
Customers using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), the nutritional program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and similar benefit programs don’t have to pay the fee.
The law sets standards for reusable bags. They must be able to carry at least 22 pounds for a distance of 175 feet and hold up to at least 125 uses. The bags have to be durable enough to be washed and disinfected.
To meet the requirements for reusable bags, compostable plastic-film bags must have a minimum of 20% postconsumer recycled material. Paper bags must have at least 40% postconsumer recycled content. The minimum percentage of recycled content will go up in July 2022.
Retail establishments have a year to use up their existing inventory of bags, unless a local ordinance blocks that, too.
Reducing plastic-bag waste holds particular importance, the Legislature said, because “single-use plastic carryout bags are made of nonrenewable resources and never biodegrade; instead,… they break down into tiny particles.” Plastic bags and plastic particles are “carried into rivers, lakes, Puget Sound, and the world’s oceans, posing a threat to animal life and the food chain,… and litter state roads, beaches, and other public spaces,” they said. The bags also clog machinery at recycling facilities and contaminate compost.
The law includes a provision to expedite applications for the expansion or reconfiguration of pulp and paper mills for manufacturing paper bags and raw materials for paper bags.
Enforcement will be handled by the state Department of Ecology and be based on complaints. Violators will be subject to a $250 fine. Ecology will also conduct education and outreach.