Thurston County bans plastic bags in unincorporated areas

OlympianSeptember 24, 2013 

The Thurston County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to ban thin, grocery-style plastic bags in unincorporated areas of the county starting July 1.

Commissioners adopted the same ban that the Tumwater City Council did last week, and that Olympia is expected to consider next month.

The ban applies to all retailers, but will mostly affect supermarkets. Shoppers will either have to bring their own reusable bags to stores or pay 5 cents per paper bag. The money will go directly to stores to offset their costs.

Other plastic bags, such as the thin bags used for meat or produce and the thicker plastic bags used by department stores, are exempt from the ban. Newspaper bags, doggie bags and dry cleaning bags are exempt. 

Packages of garbage bags are not part of the ban.

Most residents who spoke at a public hearing Tuesday night supported the ban; two were in opposition.

“The ordinance as written is the best solution available at this time,” said Mary Wilkinson of Olympia, citing the harm the bags cause to the environment.

Holly Chisa, a representative of the Northwest Grocery Association, said her group favors the ban. “We’ve tried signs, we’ve tried recycle bins, we’ve tried notes,” she said, but nothing seems to work. “We have found through ordinances all over the country and throughout the state that this is the ordinance that works.”

Emmett Brown, recycling coordinator for LeMay, the county’s chief recycler, said “we are behind this ordinance 100 percent.” LeMay will not accept plastic film bags in Thurston County starting in October because it says the market for them has collapsed.

But Karen Callies of Rochester spoke against the ban, saying regulators should focus on enforcement of litter control.

“I think a ban is not really going to work,” she said. “People will still use plastic bags.”

Thurston County’s solid waste advisory board has been pushing for plastic bag bans in each jurisdiction in the county. 

The county has been studying the issue for about two years and has developed a model ordinance for cities to adopt. Each city council decides whether to enact a bag ban. 

The Olympia City Council is expected to talk about a plastic bag ban at its Tuesday meeting and could schedule action for later. The council decided in January to recommend drafting a bag ban ordinance.

Lacey is still considering the issue, according to Terri Thomas, Thurston County’s waste reduction supervisor. A majority of Lacey council members support putting a ban to a public vote, according to minutes from a March 28 meeting.

County officials say that few people recycle the bags, which end up as litter, in a landfill or clogging recycling equipment, which costs thousands each year to fix. Nationwide, fewer than 5 percent of people recycle plastic bags, Thomas said. 

She said implementing the ban next July would allow the county to continue educating people about the issue. More information is available at

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869


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