Thurston County’s plastic bag ban begins Tuesday

Coming soon to a retail store checkout near you: Paper bags and a 5 cent fee to use them.

A plastic bag ban adopted by the cities of Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater as well as unincorporated Thurston County takes effect Tuesday, July 1.

Here are some questions and answers about it.

Q: What type of bags are banned?

A: The ban is aimed at thin plastic carryout bags. They’re commonly referred to as “T-shirt bags,” and are given at the checkouts of many retailers including Target, Walmart and Safeway.

“Retailers can continue to provide paper bags, but for the grocery-size bag or larger, they’ll need to charge a minimum of 5 cents,” said Terri Thomas, a waste reduction supervisor with Thurston County Solid Waste. “The reason for that is to level the playing field: Paper bags cost the retailers a bit more than the plastic ones. ...Most important, it acts as an incentive (for customers) to bring their own bags.”

Paper bags will be free for customers who use an Electronic Benefit Transfer card or other food assistance program.

Q: What about other types of plastic bags?

A: Certain types of plastic bags are exempt from the bans, including in-store bags for bulk items, produce and meat. The bans also don’t cover plastic bags for dry cleaning, newspapers or those used to carry prepared take-out food, according to a news release from Thurston County. Plastic garbage bags sold in packages also are exempt.

Q: What do retailers think about all of this?

A: Thomas said the laws were developed with input from retailers.

“This is the same ordinance that has been in place in other cities around Western Washington, so it’s not unfamiliar to us,” said Holly Chisa, a representative for Northwest Grocery Association. “Our members are committed to helping in the transition.”

Kevin Stormans, president of Stormans Inc. which operates Bayview and Ralph’s Thriftway stores in Olympia, said his company has encouraged shoppers to bring their own bags for years.

“It’s pretty straight forward,” Stormans said about the new law. “The best choice is to bring a reusable bag, that’s really what the whole county is trying to encourage. I think it’s a good thing.”

Q: What’s the point of the ban?

A: To help curb waste and improve the environment. Thurston County residents use an estimated 90 million plastic bags a year, Thomas said.

“That’s just a lot of unnecessary plastic,” she said.

Plastic bags have been in the top 10 list of items collected in litter and beach cleanups for years, she said.

“The plastic bags create quite a few problems in terms of sea life,” Thomas added. “The plastic bits break down, and wildlife mistakes them for food.”

Q: Where are some of the other places that have banned plastic bags?

A: “There are many across the country,” Thomas said. “Most cities in Los Angeles County have them. The entire state of Hawaii does. Right now, I think there are about 12 jurisdictions that have them (in Washington) including Seattle, Port Townsend and Bellingham.”