The new year will bring the end of single-use plastic bags by retailers, and even though their elimination has been delayed, a good New Year’s resolution for Clark County residents is to get in the habit of finding alternate ways to carry their goods home from the store.
Washington’s plastic bag ban was originally to take effect Jan. 1, but Gov. Jay Inslee recently issued a proclamation that delays the new law’s implementation until the end of January. The Legislature could further delay that if it so chooses.
Inlee’s proclamation cited the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on retailers, saying supply issues related to the pandemic had made it difficult for grocery stores, restaurants and others to procure alternative bags. The law already includes a grace period that allows retailers to use up their current inventory of single-use plastic bags.
While one can’t argue with their convenience, single-use plastics, as we’ve editorialized previously, are the biggest contributor to the growing environmental crisis of plastics pollution. According to Environment Washington’s website, plastic “poses a serious threat to whales, seals, turtles, salmon and all of Puget Sound’s wildlife. Too much of the trash comes from single-use plastic bags, which can choke, suffocate or kill thousands of whales, birds and other marine wildlife each year. ... Yet 2 billion plastic bags are distributed annually throughout Washington state, and nationwide, less than 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled.”
The new single-use plastic bag ban does carry a cost: retailers will be required to charge 8 cents each for paper or thick reusable plastic bag. There are some caveats; food banks and businesses on tribal lands are exempt from the law, and businesses cannot assess the per-bag charge on those using government food assistance benefits.
The idea of the bag fee, of course, is to encourage shoppers to carry their own reusable bags. In the current COVID-19 atmosphere, some have been reluctant or fearful to do so. But those fears are unfounded, according to a story by Columbian reporter Anthony Macuk. An official with the state Department of Ecology said during a recent webinar, “There have been statements released by the CDC and Washington Department of Health recently that indicate that transmission is not likely caused by touching surfaces like reusable bags, and can best be avoided by following other commonsense protocols like sanitizing your bags.”
An important facet of the issue is the increasingly limited recycling options for plastics. As website How Stuff Works reported in January, “While (single-use plastic) items can be recyclable, Megean Weldon of the blog and waste-prevention shop Zero Waste Nerd says that’s hardly the norm.
“ ‘In reality, very few plastic items can be processed into new materials and products,’ she says in an email. ‘Unlike glass and aluminum, plastic isn’t processed into the same item it was when it was collected by a recycling center. The quality of plastic is downgraded, so eventually, and inevitably, that plastic will still end up in a landfill.’ “
Ditching single-use plastics is vital to our precious environment and easy once one simply gets into the habit of carrying reusable bags. If you don’t already carry reusable bags, resolve now to start doing so. Those who cherish the beauty of our state and its wildlife will thank you.