Stores, shoppers try to get a handle on Thurston County’s plastic bag ban

Shopping with kids isn’t easy -- that’s why Lindsey Stockert made sure she had a pacifier and sippy cup packed for her family’s trip to the grocery store on Thursday morning.

When she got to the cash register at Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, the clerk asked if she brought her own bags, or wanted to use a paper one, which now comes with a 5 cent fee.

“I knew I was forgetting something when I came in here,” Stockert said with a chuckle.

A plastic bag ban took effect Tuesday in Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and unincorporated Thurston County. The ban is aimed to help eliminate an estimated 90 million thin plastic carryout bags a year in South Sound, according to Thurston County officials. Certain types of bags, including in-store bags for bulk foods and meat are not part of the ban.

Russ Noski, owner of Grocery Outlet on Olympia’s west side, said the first week of the ban has gone smoothly.

“People have been bringing their bags in,” he said.

It’s also been a smooth transition for customers at Ralph’s and Bayview Thriftway stores, according to Kevin Stormans, president of Stormans Inc., which operates the stores.

“The conversion seems to be a non-issue,” he said.

Stockert, 30, of Olympia, said she supports the ban, but she’ll miss plastic grocery bags, a little.

“We reuse them until they’re absolutely done for,” she said, adding that they make great trash can liners.

But Stockert added that she’s concerned about the ban’s affect on lower income families. The 5 cent fee is waived for customers who pay with food assistance programs, but Stockert said many families don’t qualify for the waiver and still need to pinch every penny they can.

“I think it’s going to be a huge and hard transition for everyone as a whole,” she said.

Judi Buller, 57, of Olympia, said she’s glad the ban will help keep plastic out of the landfill, but worries that more trees will need to be harvested now that retailers are required to only offer paper bags.

She said she’s brought her own bags to the grocery store for a long time.

“Years ago, everybody brought their own bags, and they still do in Europe,” Buller said.

Robert Plue, 61, of Olympia said he usually brings his own bags to the store, but he decided to purchase two paper bags for his groceries for an upcoming camping trip.

“Our burnable garbage can go into these,” he said as he loaded them into his vehicle at Ralph’s.

The required 5 cent per paper bag fee is designed to help offset retailers’ cost of not using plastic bags, county officials say. But it’s not OK with everyone.

Sarah Ishler, 41, of Olympia, gingerly carried a box of cat litter, several bottles of sports drinks and a container of shampoo in her arms as she walked in Ralph’s parking lot.

She said she supports the plastic bag ban, but will try to remember to bring her own bags in the future.

“I’m not paying for paper bags,” she said. “It’s just going to take some getting used to.”