Thurston County, Washington Plastic Bag Ban

Thurston County, WA, Sept. 24, 2013 (PBBR) - The Thurston County Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance today that will ban the use of most plastic carryout bags in unincorporated Thurston County starting July 1 next year. Commissioners voted to approve the ban after a public hearing on the legislation. 

"You know, we've been grappling with this issue for more than two years with industry experts and citizens and a whole host of stakeholders," said Thurston County Commission Chair Sandra Romero. "But the fact is, the costs of trying to manage plastic film are mounting, and the environmental damage is mounting. This ordinance is our best chance to get a handle on the problems our community faces with plastic bags." 

The new ordinance eliminates thin-film plastic carryout bags in unincorporated Thurston County. Certain plastic bags are exempt, including in-store bags for things like bulk items, produce and meat. The ban does not include plastic bags for prepared take-out food, dry cleaning, newspapers, or garbage bags sold in packages. 

The new ordinance also places a fee on paper bags to help stores in unincorporated Thurston County offset the higher costs of providing paper bags. The fee also acts as an incentive for shoppers to bring their own bags -- a strategy that's been used in other communities with plastic bag bans. There is no fee for smaller paper bags, in-store bags or reusable bags, and residents using food assistance programs do not pay the fee for paper bags. 

The county's legislation is modeled on similar plastic bag ban ordinances currently in place in seven other Washington cities. The plastic bag ban and paper bag fees in unincorporated Thurston County go into effect on July 1, 2014, giving county staff about nine months to inform and educate retailers and the public about the changes. 

The county commission's approval of the ordinance comes just one week before Thurston County's major waste and recycling collection provider, LeMay Incorporated, will discontinue collecting plastic carryout bags and other plastic film. LeMay Incorporated announced the end of plastic film recycling in Thurston County in early August. 

The Thurston County Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) and staff from the county's Solid Waste Division have been working on the issue of reducing the use of single use carryout bags since November 2011. County staff members visited each city and town council early in the process, and again after a nine-month community discussion to seek recommendations on how to reduce the number of plastic bags in Thurston County's waste stream from the 90 million bags we currently use on average each year. The SWAC suggested drafting a bag ban ordinance in their November 2012 report titled "Reducing Our Use: Plastic Shopping Bags," which is available at www.ThurstonSolidWaste.org/plastics. 

On Tuesday, September 17, the Tumwater City Council approved a similar ban on plastic grocery-style bags, becoming the first city in Thurston County to approve a ban that is similar to other legislation currently under consideration countywide. "One theme we heard a lot in our citizen and stakeholder comments was that there needed to be a consistent approach across the county," said Terri Thomas, Education and Outreach Specialist with the county's Solid Waste Division. "So with the help of our stakeholders group, we drafted model ordinance language that can be used as a kind of template for other jurisdictions. We hope Tumwater is just the first city to take this step, because it will take all of the cities and the county working together to provide a level playing field for businesses and consistency for shoppers." 

The model ordinance language, information on the project, and the committee's report titled "Reducing Our Use: Plastic Shopping Bags," is available at www.ThurstonSolidWaste.org/plastics. The community can sign up for email updates on the project or check for upcoming public hearing dates on the same webpage. For more information, contact Terri Thomas at ThomasTe@co.thurston.wa.us or at (360) 867-2279.

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