Bills would impose statewide ban on plastic grocery bags

OLYMPIA — The plastic bag battle begins today in the state Capitol.

Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds, wants her colleagues to follow the lead of her hometown by banning use of plastic grocery bags statewide.

She’s introduced a bill to bar plastic bags from being handed out at checkout stands. The bill will be the subject of a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Environment Committee.

“There are things about this product that we need to finally and resolutely face,” Chase said. “This is not good for ourselves, for our children, our grandchildren or for marine life. We need to finally say, ‘enough.’ “

Chase insisted she did not want to put anybody out of business but to “make sure the industry understands we’re serious about this.”

But that’s not how the industry views her approach.

“She’s trying to ban our product out of existence,” said Mark Daniels, a vice president at Hilex Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer based in South Carolina. He plans to attend today’s hearing.

Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbons, D-Burien, intends to file a slightly different version of a bag ban today and discuss it at a news conference Thursday.

His bill will differ from Chase’s in one way: by allowing stores to charge 5 cents per paper bag because paper bags are more expensive to produce than plastic ones.

Passage of either bill would make Washington the first state to ban plastic grocery bags. Today, Edmonds, Mukilteo, Seattle and Bellingham have each banned plastic grocery bags.

Mukilteo and Seattle voted in December, and the bag ban will take effect in Mukilteo in 2013. Edmonds’ law took effect in August 2010, while Bellingham’s was approved last July and takes effect next July.

“As more and more cities adopt bans, retailers are beginning to understand that a city-by-city approach doesn’t work well,” said Fitzgibbon, noting that local laws have subtle differences that can make compliance for larger retailers a headache. However, he acknowledged, his bill will face opposition, and a statewide ban on plastic bags could be years away.

Today’s hearing is on Senate Bill 5780, which says a retailer may only provide a carry-out bag made of compostable plastic, recyclable paper or other reusable material. Bags used for fresh meat, produce, bulk items, dairy products, ice or cooked foods are exempt.

Daniels said he’ll urge the committee to keep an open mind about the punitive nature of a ban versus the benefit of encouraging consumers to more actively recycle the bags.

“We don’t want to come in here and stop a bill. We want to be progressive and come up with solutions,” he said. “We have always promoted a (bag) recycling bill.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

More on the bill

Read Sen. Chase’s bill at tinyurl.com/plasticbagbill.

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