State solution is premature

A slow but steady evolution appears to be under way in Washington away from a dependence on plastic grocery bags, to the great benefit of the environment and those who hate litter.

Bills in Olympia that would ban them statewide represent a lack of patience that could actually undermine their sponsors’ own goals. They’re premature at best, and ought to be sacked early in the session.

Four cities have passed ordinances banning the use of those flimsy plastic bags at the checkout stand. Edmonds was the first; the ban there has been in effect for a year and a half, without apparent harm to retailers or consumers. Mukilteo, Seattle and Bellingham each have laws scheduled to go into effect once stores have had a reasonable period to prepare.

This grassroots movement ought to be given room to keep growing.

The proposed statewide ban, co-sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Maralyn Chase (D-Edmonds) and in the House by Rep. Marko Liias (D-Edmonds) already has awakened a sleeping giant: the plastic bag industry. It’s been relatively passive as city bans have sprouted, but has vowed to fight in Olympia.

A statewide ban could also stir many people’s libertarian juices in a way the more deliberate, city-by-city approach hasn’t so far.

Locally-driven education campaigns pointing out the damage done by plastic bags that end up in waterways and other unintended places have been effective, in part, because they’ve been respectful and weren’t seen by most people as government overreach. Get the state involved before most folks have bought in, however, and you’re inviting a loud, bitter argument that’s just unnecessary.

Let the current momentum continue. More and more people are getting used to bringing cloth bags to the store. Retailers are using that to their advantage, selling reusable bags emblazoned with their logo. Awareness of the environmental impacts of plastic bags that aren’t recycled or properly disposed of is growing. A solution doesn’t need to be forced.

If Chase, Liias and the other sponsors’ primary intent is to apply pressure that keeps such momentum going, fine. Putting the plastic-bag industry on notice that things could get worse if it chooses to fight local battles might be a sound strategy.

But in a short, 60-day legislative session, there isn’t time for a prolonged fight on an issue that may be well on its way to a solution. Proponents should make their arguments, then bag up these bills.