In recent years, the people of Washington have annually used two billion single-use plastic bags. These bags long outlive their trips from the grocery store, littering our roadways, forests, streams, and shores. They don’t biodegrade—instead, they break down into tiny, toxic particles. These microplastic pieces are found across the world, reaching from mountain tops to the ocean floor and into the bodies of millions of living creatures. Single-use plastic bags contribute to the presence of microplastics at every level of the food chain.
New plastic bag law passed in 2020
To address these problems, in 2020, the Plastic Free Washington / Washington Sin Plástico coalition and many others supported passage of SB5323 by the Washington state legislature. This important bill bans thin film, carry-home plastic bags (also known as T-shirt bags) and incentivizes bringing reusable bags. SB5323 was championed by Representative Strom Peterson and Senator Mona Das. It was signed by Governor Inslee on April 25, 2020 and went into effect on October 1, 2021.
What the law does
This law has two essential parts. First, it bans the use of single-use plastic carry-home bags across the state. Second, it sets an 8-cent charge for certain reusable bags that businesses can provide to consumers, like paper bags made with at least 40% recycled content and 2.25-mil-thick plastic bags. Overall, the new statewide bag ban encourages shoppers to use reusable bags whenever they can.
Consumers will no longer receive single-use plastic bags.Small plastic and paper bags will be allowed, however, for items bought in bulk (like screws and bolts) or for items where freshness or moisture control is an issue (like fresh fruit or bakery goods).
Two kinds of carryout bags will be widely available: large paper bags and thick, reusable plastic bags. Both of these bags will carry a fee of eight cents, attached like sales tax to the bottom of a receipt.
Some retailers may provide green or brown compostable bags. However, the Department of Ecology does not encourage using these bags since most composting facilities in the state won’t accept them.
All in all, the best option is to #BringYourOwnBag! Shopping with a reusable bag is free. Because they can be used many times, reusable bags lessen our impact on the environment.
Customers using a food assistance program, such as SNAP, TANF, WIC, or FAP benefits, are not subject to the 8-cent charge. Food banks and other food assistance programs are also exempt from the requirements (though they are of course encouraged to comply).
Research demonstrates that plastic bag bans effectively reduce plastic bag consumption and litter. California implemented a bag ban in 2014 and saw plastic bag usage decrease by about 70%. Washington’s law just went into effect, so there is no available data on its impact. However, Plastic Free Washington / Washington Sin Plástico coalition members hold beach, open-space, and other cleanups and are inventorying this debris to measure the impact of the new plastic bag law!
Customers can report businesses violating the law through the Department of Ecology’s online portal.
The Department of Ecology also encourages businesses to post Bring Your Own Bag signage and create their own branded reusable bags. The department’s outreach toolkit explains the new bag ban law in seventeen languages.