Editor’s note: In the printed version of the article, it was stated that Friday Harbor was not included in San Juan County’s original plastic bag ban ordinance, however, the town also passed its own ban on single-use plastic bags in February 2017.
Submitted by San Juan County
On March 25, Gov. Jay Inslee signed Bill ESSB 5323, also known as the Washington Plastic Bag Ban into law (RCW 70A.530). This means that starting Jan. 1, 2021, retailers and restaurants throughout the state will be prohibited from providing single-use plastic carryout bags. As Washington prepares for the statewide plastic bag ban to take effect this January, San Juan County continues to be a regional leader in promoting sustainable alternatives.
In 2016, the county passed its own plastic bag ordinance, one of over 37 Washington cities, towns, and counties have passed their own plastic bag bans since 2009. Despite these measures, every year Washingtonians use over 2 billion single-use plastic bags and the average American uses about 500 bags per year.
Gus Gates, Washington Policy Manager for the Surfrider Foundation explained to the San Juan Journal, “Plastic bags are one of the top ten items we find every year at beach cleanups in Washington and around the globe. Eliminating this chronic source of plastic pollution will go a long way towards keeping our beaches and aquatic ecosystems in Washington clean.”
When the state plastic bag ban goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, it will effectively replace the county’s existing plastic bag ban. The most significant difference for San Juan County residents is that they will see an 8-cent bag charge on their receipt if they do not use a reusable bag and instead use a paper or thick plastic bag provided by the retailer. These bags must meet specific post-consumer recycled content and thickness requirements to be allowed for sale under the new ban.
What are the main changes with the state plastic bag ban versus the county bag ban?
• If a business provides you a carry-out bag, you will be charged 8 cents.
• Thicker, reusable plastic bags must have 20 percent minimum recycled content.
• The bag charge does not apply to those who use vouchers or e-benefits cards to buy food.
Where can I get more information as a customer, retailer, or restaurant owner?
Please visit the “Washington’s Plastic Bag Ban” website at www.ecy.wa.gov/bag-ban to find detailed information on the state’s bag ban.
How can I avoid the carryout bag charge?
• Routinely keep a clean and reusable bag in your vehicle.
• Have more than one reusable bag so that other bags can be washed/cleaned.
• Avoid bags altogether by reloading your items into a basket/cart after checkout and then unloading them directly into bags/containers in your vehicle.
• Some retailers may have spare boxes to use in the place of a bag.
• The bag charge does not apply to customers who are on food vouchers or e-benefit cards (SNAP/FAP/WIC/TANF).
• Reuse the 8-cent thick plastic bag or large paper bag multiple times.
Are reusable bags safe during the COVID19 pandemic and is plastic safer than other materials?
According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “If you normally bring your own reusable shopping bags, ensure they are cleaned before each use.”
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “There is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”
As it relates to plastic surfaces, The New England Journal of Medicine found that COVID19 remained viable longer on plastic than on paper materials tested (April 16, 2020). While the CDC has clarified that, “touching surfaces is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” it is important to always practice good hygiene regardless of the surface or the material. All customers should frequently clean and disinfect their reusable bags as well as their hands. As a precaution, customers should offer to bag their own groceries whenever possible to minimize the amount of contact between business employees and reusable bags brought back to stores.
For more information see “How to Reduce Your Waste Impact During COVID-19 Times,” at https://www.sjcmrc.org/projects/plastic-free-salish-sea/.