Washington's single-use plastic bag ban

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COVID-19

  • Gov. Jay Inslee and the Legislature have acted to delay implementation of the statewide plastic bag ban until the COVID-19 State of Emergency declaration has been lifted.
  • The Legislature is considering passage of Substitute House Bill 1053, which may impact the Governor’s Proclamation.  
  • Please join the bag ban email listserv for continued COVID-19/bag ban related updates.
  • Our top priority is keeping Washingtonians healthy during this pandemic. We are working closely with state and federal agencies to follow the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Plastic bags are a major contaminant in Washington’s recycling facilities, waterways, roadways, and environment. Washington's Plastic Bag Ban will reduce pollution by prohibiting single-use plastic carryout bags and charging a fee for acceptable bags in business establishments beginning in January 2021.

icon of a plastic ban inside a red circle with a slash

Governor delays statewide plastic bag ban until COVID emergency lifted

On January 19, Gov. Jay Inslee issued extensions on 26 emergency proclamations, which were concurrently extended by the Legislature on January 15 with the passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution 8402. These extended proclamations include an extension to the delay of bag ban implementation.

These emergency proclamations are effective until the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency declared in RCW 43.06.210, unless rescinded by the Governor or the Legislature, whichever occurs first. Therefore, implementation of the bag ban is delayed by Governor’s proclamation until otherwise noted.

Substitute House Bill 1053 would delay the implementation of the statewide bag ban until June 30, 2021. If passed, this bill may impact the Governor’s proclamation.

Plastic bag ban

Responding to growing plastic bag pollution, the Legislature in 2020 passed a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

This new law bans single-use plastic bags to reduce marine plastic pollution, litter, and waste. The law will:

  • Reduce contamination in commingled recycling and compost systems.
  • Promote reuse and recycled content.
  • Build consistency in policy and enforcement across the state.
  • Support the recycled paper manufacturing industry.

We are currently collaborating on outreach materials with local governments, retailers, associations, and NGOs. We will offer technical assistance, customizable education, and outreach material to businesses working to educate customers and comply with the ban.

You'll also be able to submit a report, starting in 2021, if you observe a business still using prohibited bags. We will use this information to help businesses follow the state's plastic bag ban.

  • Every year Washingtonians use 2 billion single-use plastic bags
  • Plastic bags are a big problem in the recycling system
  • Plastic bags contain chemicals that are toxic once released into the environment
  • Plastic bags cost retailers money
  • Plastic pollution poses both physical and chemical threats to the marine environment
  • Reusable bags or recyclable paper bags are a better alternative

On January 19, Gov. Jay Inslee issued extensions on 26 emergency proclamations, which were concurrently extended by the Legislature on January 15 with the passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution 8402. These extended proclamations include an extension to the delay of bag ban implementation.

These emergency proclamations are effective until the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency declared in RCW 43.06.210, unless rescinded by the Governor or the Legislature, whichever occurs first. Therefore, implementation of the bag ban is delayed by Governor’s proclamation until otherwise noted.

Substitute House Bill 1053 would delay the implementation of the statewide bag ban until June 30, 2021. If passed, this bill may impact the Governor’s proclamation.

When the law does become effective, it will:

  • Prohibit single-use plastic carryout bags in all retail and grocery stores, restaurants, takeout establishments, festivals, and markets.
  • Require an 8-cent charge for all recycled content paper carryout bags and reusable carryout bags made of film plastic.
  • The fee may not be collected from anyone using a voucher or electronic benefits card issued under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Temporary Assitance for Needy Families (TANF), or Food Assistance Program (FAP).
  • Require a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content and meet composting requirements in all retail-provided paper bags.
  • Require that a reusable bag made of plastic film contain 20% post-consumer recycled content and be at least 2.25 mil thick.
  • Require compliant paper and reusable plastic film bags to be labeled with the above specifications
  • Create consistent policy and fees across the state.
  • This ban does not apply to food banks and food assistance programs, however, those programs are encouraged to take actions to reduce the use of single-use plastic carryout bags.

 

Frequently asked questions


Will the bag ban be delayed due to COVID-19?

We do not have the authority to delay the start of the bag ban, however Gov. Jay Inslee and the Legislature have acted to delay implementation of the statewide plastic bag ban until the COVID-19 State of Emergency declaration is lifted. The ban was previously scheduled to become effective on Jan. 1, 2021. The Legislature is also considering passage of Substitute House Bill 1053, which may impact the Governor’s Proclamation. Because of these new developments, any date listed below will change.

Please join the bag ban email listserv for continued COVID-19/Bag Ban related updates.

When we do begin implementation, the safety and health of Washingtonians will remain our number one priority and we will continue to follow the advice of health and safety experts as we work with businesses to comply with the new law. 

Studies show COVID-19 is not likely to be spread by surface transmission at all.

Early in the pandemic, claims circulated that single-use plastics, like plastic bags, were safer than reusable items. However, studies and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the Washington Department of Health, and other medical researchers do not support this claim. They indicate COVID-19 is not more likely to be spread on surfaces like reusable bags than on plastic bags.

To be safe, many businesses in the 39 Washington cities and counties that already have plastic bag bans have suspended their bans and stopped allowing customers to bring their own reusable bags until more information became available. Some businesses have retained this policy and others have returned to allowing customers to use their reusable shopping bags. 

However, when the statewide bag ban begins, stores will be required to allow customers to bring in reusable bags to comply with the statewide law. Businesses may also require customers to bag their own groceries in these bags, if they choose. 

Take common sense measures like washing you reusable bags after use, and sanitizing your hands and bags.

What about potential supply shortages of post-consumer recycled content paper and 2.25 mil plastic bags?

There have been documented instances of supply and distribution issues for the allowable 8-cent bags, likely associated with business and resource effects of the pandemic. 

Citing these concerns, representatives of several grocery associations submitted a request to the legislature requesting a delay in the ban until June of 2021. A bill reflecting this request has been prefiled with the legislature.

The Legislature may address this request issue when it returns on Jan. 11, 2021.

When we do begin implementation of the bag ban, for the first few months we'll focus on outreach and education. We and our local government partners will work with business owners to help them comply.