A bill sponsored by Sen. Mona Das (D-Kent) passed on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 by the state Senate would reduce pollution by prohibiting retailers in Washington state from handing out single-use plastic bags.

The bill passed on a vote of 30-19, and now heads to the House for consideration and a few technical fixes.

Das sponsored Senate Bill 5323, which is supported by retailers as well as environmentalists.

“We’ve reached crisis-level proportions of plastic pollution,” Das said. “Everyone has seen the horrifying photos and videos of animals choked by plastics, tangled in garbage, or whose bellies are full of waste. It’s not good for animals, for natural habitats, for our planet. It’s not good for us. We bear a responsibility to make this right.”

This bill would allow retailers — including grocers — to provide paper bags or durable, reusable bags for 8 cents each. The reusable bags must meet standards for strength, durability and recycled content. The 8-cent charge would help retailers recover the costs of the paper or durable plastic bags and create an incentive for shoppers to bring their own bags. Shoppers who bring their own reusable bags would not be charged.

People using the State Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program or the state Food Assistance Program (FAP) would not be subject to the 8-cent fee.

Thirty-seven jurisdictions throughout Washington state — comprising about 33 percent of Washington’s jurisdictions, and hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians — have implemented plastic bag ban measures, up from 28 jurisdictions when this bill was heard on the Senate floor in March of 2019. SB 5323 is modeled after those local laws and applies one uniform set of regulations to the state.

“Protecting our environment is one of the most important jobs we have as state legislators,” Das said, “especially since the gravity of the climate crisis is taken less seriously by some at the national level. We only get one planet. We need to care for it.”

Scott Schaefer

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