Plastic bags are a major contaminant in Washington’s recycling facilities, waterways, roadways, and environment. Washington's Plastic Bag Ban will reduce pollution by prohibiting single-use plastic carryout bags and charging a fee for acceptable bags in business establishments. On December 18, 2020, Governor Inslee issued a proclamation delaying implementation of the bag ban until January 30, 2021.
This new law bans single-use plastic bags to reduce marine plastic pollution, litter, and waste. The law will:
- Reduce contamination in commingled recycling and compost systems.
- Promote reuse and recycled content.
- Build consistency in policy and enforcement across the state.
- Support the recycled paper manufacturing industry.
Washington state will:
- Prohibit single-use plastic carryout bags in all retail and grocery stores, restaurants, takeout establishments, festivals, and markets.
- Require an 8-cent charge for all recycled content paper carryout bags and reusable carryout bags made of film plastic.
- The fee may not be collected from anyone using a voucher or electronic benefits card issued under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Food Assistance Program (FAP).
- Require a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled content and meet composting requirements in all retail-provided paper bags.
- Require that a reusable bag made of plastic film contain 20 percent post-consumer recycled content and be at least 2.25 mil thick.
- Require compliant paper and reusable plastic film bags to be labeled with the above specifications.
- Create consistent policy and fees across the state.
- This ban does not apply to food banks and food assistance programs; however, those programs are encouraged to take actions to reduce the use of single-use plastic carryout bags.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why ban plastic bags?
- Every year Washingtonians use 2 billion single-use plastic bags
- Plastic bags are a big problem in the recycling system
- Plastic bags contain toxic chemicals
- Plastic bags cost retailers money
- Plastic pollution poses both physical and chemical threats to the marine environment
- Reusable bags or recyclable paper bags are a better alternative
Who does the ban apply to?
- All retail, grocery, and convenience stores
- Any restaurant or establishment offering takeout or delivery food or goods
- Temporary stores or vendors
- Any event where food or goods are sold or distributed
What should retailers do with bag inventory purchased before the ban goes into effect?
Businesses may use up their existing plastic bag inventory without penalty until June 11, 2021. But they may have to prove the bags were purchased before the ban. Chain stores with outlets outside of Washington may ship their bag inventory to those out-of-state locations.
Are there any restrictions on customers bringing their own bag?
No. Customers are encouraged to bring and reuse their own bags when they shop. Some businesses may require customers to bag their own groceries in reusable bags. Customers should clean and disinfect their hands and reusable bags frequently.
Where does the 8-cent fee on paper and reusable bags go? And is it taxable?
Businesses collect and keep this fee, to recover some of the cost of providing the bags. The 8-cent fee is subject to sales tax since retail stores are selling the bags.
Can retailers "eat the cost" of approved plastic and paper checkout bags and not charge their customers?
No. The minimum 8-cent charge must be collected and is intended to promote the use of reusable bags by customers. The number and total cost of these bags must be shown on the customer’s sales receipt. This ensures a level playing field among retailers.
Which plastic bags are banned? Are there any exceptions?
Any single-use, plastic carry-out bag provided at delivery, check stand, cash register, point of sale, or other point of departure to a customer.Exceptions to the single-use plastic bag ban include those used by consumers inside stores for:
- Bulk items
- Frozen food
- Potted plants
- Prepared food or bakery goods
- Prescription drugs
- Newspaper bags
- Mailing pouches
- Sealed envelopes
- Door hanger bags
- Dry cleaning bags
- Bags sold in packages with multiple bags, like food storage, garbage, or pet waste
What about compostable bags?
Compostable film bags for products bagged in stores before checkout must meet the requirements for compostable bags and film bags in Chapter 70.360 RCW. Businesses are allowed to give compostable bags to customers at checkout, with an optional fee. However, we do not recommend their use because they are garbage and cannot be composted at home or placed in food waste or mixed organics carts.
Why did the state ban lightweight plastic carryout bags but allow heavyweight, thicker ones?
The thicker, stronger plastic bags — those more than 2.25 millimeters thick — have special uses for which paper is not a good option or not readily available. These bags must still be made of at least 20% post-consumer recycled content and have the recycled content printed on the outside of the bag. In 2025, the required thickness increases to 4 mil.
How will this be enforced?
Anyone will be able to report a business using prohibited bags to the Department of Ecology starting in 2021. They will review complaints and respond by providing the non-compliant business with additional information, resources, and technical assistance. Though Department of Ecology intends to respond whenever possible with assistance in gaining compliance, repeated and continuous non-compliance may result in up to a $250 fine.
How will residents be notified about the bag ban? Are individual retailers responsible for sharing the information?
The Department of Ecology will provide information on social media, and local governments are informing the public as well. However, it is expected that retailers will be sharing information with their customers.
Visit Department of Ecology's Plastic Bag Ban page to learn more.