Single-use plastic bag ban begins Oct. 1 in Washington

Photo courtesy WSDOE.

Washingtonians will begin to see fewer plastic bags littering the state’s roadsides, parks, and streams beginning Oct. 1 when the statewide plastic bag ban goes into effect, prohibiting the distribution of single-use plastic carry-out bags by restaurants, retail, small vendors and grocery stores.

The ban had been originally scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2021, but the limited availability of compliant bags prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to delay it through a proclamation. The proclamation was recently rescinded.

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

Plastic bags are a common form of pollution that threatens human health, wildlife, and the environment. Harmful chemicals are released when plastics are produced, used, incinerated, or slowly disintegrate into microscopic particles. Plastic bags are also a major contaminant in Washington’s recycling system that clog sorting machines and put worker safety at risk.

Ecology recommends people invest in reusable bags for groceries or to carry out food from restaurants. Like any reusable item, reusable bags should be washed and properly stored after each use.

If customers choose to use compliant plastic or paper bags offered by a merchant, the law requires the business charge 8 cents per bag. That 8-cent-charge is not a tax; it is a sale kept entirely by the merchant to provide an incentive for customers to bring their own bags and to recoup the costs for the more durable compliant bags.

Food banks and pantries, and individuals receiving food stamps, WIC, SNAP, or other government assistance are not subject to the 8-cent charge. Some single-use plastic bags are exempt from the law, including plastics to wrap meats and produce, bags for prescriptions, and newspaper or dry-cleaning bags.

Accessible toolkits available in 17 languages

Ecology is focused on education and communication with business owners. Helping all Washingtonians understand important details of the new law will benefit stores and customers, and ease the statewide transition to reusable bags. That’s why Ecology and partners developed an outreach toolkit formatted for accessibility and available in 17 languages.

Toolkits include a variety of materials that are customizable for individual restaurants and retailers, including flyers, Bring-Your-Own-Bag and point-of-sale signage, and web graphics. They are available for download in PDF and InDesign formats so they can be branded, printed, and shared by businesses and local governments.

Visit ecology.wa.gov/bag-ban for more information, tools and resources, and a complete listing of requirements of Washington’s statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

The Washington Legislature has been focused on reducing the use of single-use plastics in the state for several years. In 2021, a new law aimed at doing just that was passed. Ecology is implementing the new law. It will increase recycled content in bottles and trash bags, and drive development of new markets for Washington’s recyclable plastic.


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