Lawmakers in both the state Senate and the House of Representatives are seeking to enact what would be the nation's first statewide ban of plastic grocery and retail bags.

Share story

OLYMPIA — Lawmakers in both the state Senate and the House of Representatives are seeking to enact what would be the nation’s first statewide ban of plastic grocery and retail bags.

Previous attempts to ban the thin-film plastic bags statewide have failed, but backers say recent bans approved by cities could give the issue more momentum.

In Washington, the city of Edmonds was the first to adopt a ban, in 2009. It was joined by Bellingham last July, and Seattle and Mukilteo approved bans last month.

Senate Bill 5780 and House Bill 1877 are similar. Both bills would allow plastic bags for fresh meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts or other bulk items, dairy products, ice and cooked foods.

Lawmakers have been pressured by environmental groups to support a ban.

Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, the prime sponsor of the Senate bill, said she’s concerned about environmental harm from the bags, noting that such bags were found inside a gray whale that washed up in West Seattle in 2010.

“I want plastic out of the water,” she said.

A public hearing on her bill is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Senate Committee on Environment.

A representative of the nation’s largest plastic-bag manufacturer said his company would oppose a statewide ban.

Mark Daniels, vice president of sustainability and environmental policy for Helix Poly Co., said the thin-film plastic bags his company makes are frequently recycled or reused by consumers. Industry officials also say paper bags consume more resources and cost more to manufacture and transport than plastic.

Under Chase’s bill, a retailer could not provide customers with carryout bags unless they are made from compostable plastic or recyclable paper or are reusable. Reusable plastic bags are thicker than the thin bags most often used by grocers and retail outlets.

Chase said she intends to rewrite her bill before the hearing Wednesday and is open to the idea of retailers charging customers a small fee for a carryout paper bag.

The intention, she said, is to encourage people to use cloth bags.

Under the House bill, retailers could provide recyclable paper bags to customers at a cost of at least 5 cents each. The fee would be waived for those on food stamps or other public-assistance programs.

The House bill, first introduced by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, last session, was reintroduced Monday.

Fitzgibbon said he didn’t expect the bill to pass last year, but it got the conversation started.

“I expect to have support from local governments,” he said. “There’s more interest in the Legislature on making sure we don’t have a scattered approach.”

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said he’s not sure a statewide bag ban would be enacted this year, “but it will happen over time.”

Seattle’s bag ban goes into effect in July. In addition to banning plastic bags at grocery, retail and convenience stores, it imposes a nickel fee on paper grocery bags to offset the higher cost of paper to stores and to remind shoppers to bring reusable bags.

Stephanie Kim: 360-236-8266 or skim@seattletimes.com