Why you may still see some plastic bags after statewide ban

Oct 19, 2021, 7:30 PM | Updated: Oct 20, 2021, 10:16 am
plastic bags...
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The statewide ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect Oct. 1, but you may still see some plastic bags when you are out shopping — especially at smaller businesses.

The new law states that stores, restaurants, festivals, and markets must give customers either paper bags or reusable thick plastic bags. Customers must be charged 8 cents per bag as a way to encourage the use of reusable bags instead.

Mark Johnson, senior vice president of Policy and Government Affairs at the Washington Retail Association, said this big switch can present challenges for small businesses.

After 15 months of delays, Washington’s plastic bag ban takes effect

For one, he said, the new paper or thick plastic bags will generally be more expensive, and small businesses especially may not recoup the costs, even with the 8-cent charge. The bags must be at least 40% post-consumer recycled materials — meaning at least 40% of the bag is made up from previously used and recycled materials — which Johnson said tends to be more costly than other forms of paper or plastic. This especially hits mom-and-pops hard.

“A smaller retail establishment will normally pay more for their paper bags than a larger retailer by far, just from the sheer volume and the purchasing power,” he said.

Then there is the time that small stores and restaurants will take to get rid of their current plastic bag supply.

“For smaller retailers, it’s going to take them using up any existing supply of stock that they had purchased prior to October 1, maybe a little bit longer than maybe a larger retailer that has a high volume of sales,” Johnson said.

Luckily, for those business owners, the Department of Ecology is giving a bit of a grace period over the next few months to businesses that still have a back stock of plastic bags to use up. The department said in a statement that “the intent [of the law] is not for these bags to go to waste.”

“If they are using bags after the cutoff date, anytime now, if they can provide documentation that they purchased the bags pre-October 1, then [the state] is going to exercise a lot of leniency,” Johnson explained.

However, if it’s clear that a business is flouting the bag ban — for instance, if a store bought a large supply of plastic bags after the ban went into effect — it could face a $250 fine.

Ecology also noted that it “would not expect businesses to be using up existing inventories of bags for more than a few months.”

The Department of Ecology has a tip line on its website for people to report businesses that are breaking the rules. The department said that first step when investigating a business is to teach the owner about the new law, and that fines are a last resort. Still, business owners continuing to use plastic bags should plan to keep receipts in case they need to prove that the bags were bought before the date of the new law.

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Why you may still see some plastic bags after statewide ban