State-wide plastic bag ban now in effect

Rosa Woolsey, News Editor

Forgetting your reusable bags at home could now be a costly slip of the mind. A statewide plastic bag ban came into effect on Oct. 1, meaning a shift from single-use plastic bags to reusable plastic bags and paper bags made of recycled materials. This ban applies to all retail establishments in Washington State including grocery stores, restaurants, takeout establishments, festivals and markets. 

These new bags cost customers eight cents each. Businesses keep the fees from such sales to cover these more costly bags and to incentivize customers to remember their own reusable bags. 

The Washington State Department of Ecology’s website outlines a few exceptions to this eight cent fee, including food banks and food assistance programs. 

“The fee may not be collected from anyone using a voucher or electronic benefits card issued under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women’s Infants and Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Food Assistance Program (FAP),” the website states.

Junior Yesenia Jose has noticed a mixed response to this new ban while working as a cashier at a local grocery store. 

“A couple people are happy about it; they say that now people will be more conscious about how many bags they use, but I think it’s more negative than positive,” Jose said. “They say it’s ridiculous, ‘Why is it eight cents for a bag? That’s so much money!’ They’re just not used to it.”

Washington is following the lead of our West coast neighbors as plastic bag bans have come into effect in California in 2016 and Oregon in 2020. Washington has considered a plastic bag ban for years. This law was initially passed in March 2020, but COVID-19 induced supply chain issues led Gov. Jay Inslee to delay the implementation of the bag ban, originally intended to begin on Jan. 1, 2021. 

The primary basis for such a shift is rooted in environmental concerns. The state’s Department of Ecology cites that “Washingtonians use 2 billion single-use plastic bags” annually. In a Department of Ecology News Release, Laurie Davies, manager of Ecology’s Solid Waste Management Program, commented on the challenges plastic bags pose.

“Single-use plastic bags are not easily recyclable, which makes managing them at the end of their lives almost impossible,” Davies said. “Reducing their use will protect our rivers and streams, and help our recycling system run more efficiently.” 

As the City of Walla Walla suspended plastic recycling in October 2020, single use plastic bags in Walla Walla and cities across the state with limited recycling programs are destined for the landfill. Banning plastic bags from the start will reduce the quantity of this common pollutant rather than relying upon retroactive tactics.