Governor Jay Inslee has signed into law ESSB 5323 which bans the use of plastic bags, even though other states around the country are now prohibiting the use of reusable bags over fears of spreading COVID-19.
ESSB 5323 prohibits stores starting in 2021 from offering disposable plastic bags and requires that they impose a fee for the use of paper bags. One of the alternative options for shoppers are reusable bags made of recycled material that are thought to be more environmentally friendly.
At the March 25 signing ceremony Inslee described the bill as “a victory for our environment history. Plastic bags are one of the most commonly littered items.” That same day, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced a temporary ban on reusable bags, a measure also taken by New Hampshire Governor Gov. Chris Sununu. Similar steps have also been taken in cities across the country such as Boston and Baker, Ore. Locally, the city of Tacoma temporarily rescinded its “bring your own bag” measure.
The argument is that reusable bags can help spread COVID-19. A 2011 study of random reusable bags reported that “large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria in half.”
The Tacoma ordinance states the move is needed “in order to protect the health and safety of their workers, who are a critical part of the food supply chain, during this global pandemic. Temporary suspension of the City’s Ordinance is currently in the best interests of the residents of Tacoma and the critical workers in the grocery industry.”
In cities like Snohomish and Everett, the mayors have temporarily lifted local bans on plastic bags, though Washington Policy Center Environmental Director Todd Myers noted that the new law preempts any local action.
“If you’re trying to cut down coronavirus…now is sort of the wrong time to get people to move to something that is more likely to transmit disease,” he said. “In the near term, if you move everybody to reusable bags which are more likely to transit illness you’re moving in the wrong direction.”