Some of us developed good habits during the pandemic. We took longer walks or learned new technology skills. One positive routine, remembering our reusable shopping bags, fell by the wayside.
They’re not a brand new bag, but those handy fiber sacks haven’t had much use in more than a year.
During all these months that the state’s plastic bag ban has been on hold, I stopped keeping my stash of reusable bags in the car. Due to COVID-19, many retailers stopped accepting them. Well, it’s time to get back in the habit — and be ready for the state’s ban, which will take effect Oct. 1.
Washington’s new law banning single-use plastic carryout bags was to have kicked in Jan. 1, 2021. But Gov. Jay Inslee paused it with Emergency Proclamation 20-82, issued Dec. 18. At the time, the governor said retailers had COVID-related supply issues keeping them from getting enough reusable plastic bags to meet demand. “Those challenges have since passed,” Inslee announced Tuesday.
The emergency proclamation will expire at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 30, Inslee said. So on Oct. 1, stores statewide will no longer hand out single-use plastic bags. Customers may bring their own bags, or stores can provide paper sacks or reusable thicker plastic bags — for 8 cents per bag, a fee kept by retailers and subject to sales tax.
Months before the pandemic hit, the city of Everett’s reusable bag ordinance went into effect on Sept. 30, 2019. Approved by the Everett City Council Dec. 5, 2018, it’s intended to reduce waste and protect the environment. Like the state law will do, it prohibits retailers from distributing single-use plastic bags, with exceptions to protect public health and safety.
Julio Cortes, a senior communications officer with the city, said Everett’s ban “is technically in effect,” but it hasn’t been enforced during the pandemic. “We are currently reviewing the City’s ban to see how it aligns with the state’s bag ban,” Cortes said by email July 7.
Edmonds was Washington’s first city to ban single-use, checkout-line plastic bags. Passed by the Edmonds City Council in 2009, the rule took effect in 2010. Rep. Strom Peterson, an Edmonds Democrat, was a sponsor of the state ban, along with Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent.
Voices in the environmental community cheered Inslee’s move to get the plastic bag ban back on track.
“Bringing your own bag helps reduce plastic waste and stem the flow of plastic going into our waterways and ocean,” said Nora Nickum, ocean policy manager at the Seattle Aquarium, in a statement Wednesday. “This law reminds us all to take that easy step.”
“Plastic bags are among the most common items we find on beach cleanups,” added Gus Gates, Washington policy manager with the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to ocean protection.
Heather Trim, executive director of Zero Waste Washington, said single-use bags not only cause plastic pollution, they cause problems at recycling facilities.
Just in time to restart a good habit, the city of Everett has relaunched its “Bring Your Bag” effort. Like during a 2019 outreach campaign in anticipation of the bag ordinance, the city is again offering free reusable bags. While supplies last, the blue sacks with “Bring Your Bag” and the Everett logo on them are available at the Everett Public Library downtown and at the Evergreen Branch.
“You can bring your own bags while shopping in most retail establishments to reduce single-use plastics, though some retailers may still ask you to use self-checkout or bag your own purchases,” said a July 2 City of Everett newsletter.
At a QFC store in Everett Tuesday, a checker had no complaints about taking my reusable bag and filling it herself. And the store was not yet charging for paper sacks. But at a Target store in Spokane a week ago, I was charged 8 cents for a heavy reusable plastic bag, although the state’s bag ban wasn’t yet in effect.
The state’s ban won’t include bags used in stores to package bulk items such as fruits and vegetables, or small hardware items. Nor does it include bags for frozen foods, meat, fish, flowers or bakery goods. Also not included are newspaper bags, or bags sold in packages for food storage, garbage or pet waste.
Cortes said that along with Everett’s libraries, free reusable bags will be distributed to multifamily properties that request them “to promote waste reduction in their buildings.” In all, about 6,000 bags will be available to the public, he said.
At the downtown Everett library early last week, the free bags were available at the circulation desk and in the children’s section. Abby Cooley, the library director, said that before the pandemic, “I had just gotten into the habit of taking them to the grocery store.” Same here.
It’s time to renew that habit.
Julie Muhlstein: firstname.lastname@example.org