Under proposal, grocery stores would ditch some plastic bags
Paper or plastic? That question could become passé under a measure being pushed by one lawmaker who says plastic grocery bags harm...
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Paper or plastic? That question could become passé under a measure being pushed by one lawmaker who says plastic grocery bags harm the environment and waste resources.
Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, has sponsored a bill that would require grocery stores to provide bags that are made from recyclable paper, compostable plastic, reusable textile materials such as canvas, or reusable plastic that is at least 0.09-inch thick.
Grocery stores could be eligible for a tax credit but would face a $500 fine for not complying.
"It's an idea whose time has come," said Chase, who is pushing for several environmental measures this year, including one that would ban the sale of petroleum-based water bottles.
The proposal, House Bill 2424, has a public hearing before the House Select Committee on Environmental Health on Wednesday evening.
Environmental groups say plastic bags waste valuable oil, release toxins when burned and contribute to global warming because of the energy required to produce them. They also say bags littering the oceans kill sea turtles and other marine animals that mistake them for food.
The Sierra Club's Sierra magazine estimates almost 100 billion plastic bags are thrown out each year, and that only 5.2 percent of those are recovered for recycling.
Chase wants to follow the lead of cities like San Francisco, which became the first in the nation last year to ban petroleum-based plastic bags in large grocery stores.
In France, supermarket chains have begun shying away from giving away plastic bags and German stores must pay a recycling fee if they wish to offer them. Ireland's surcharge on bags imposed in 2003 has been credited with sharply reducing demand. China also has banned flimsy plastic shopping bags and forces stores to charge for others.
Some stores already have embraced the idea.
PCC Natural Markets, which has eight stores in King County and is opening one in Snohomish County this year, eliminated all plastic bags from its stores as of Oct. 1.
"It has been overwhelmingly positive," said Diana Crane, spokeswoman for the cooperative, which sells certified organic, natural foods.
But larger grocery stores likely will fight the measure.
"One of the concerns I have about the bill is that it only mandates groceries," said Joe Gilliam, president of Northwest Grocery Association, which represents stores including Safeway, Fred Meyer and QFC. "It really doesn't get to the issue of plastic bags."
Gilliam said that all the grocery stores he represents sell reusable bags for about $1, and they also offer paper. But he said that for some customers, plastic is more convenient.
"Paper is a good alternative and has some real environmental benefits to it, but they don't do as well if you're walking with several bags and you have to get on a bus and the bags are wet," he said. "It does cause a problem for some folks."
Gilliam also noted that the plastic bags can be brought back to the grocery store, where they are recycled.
"The bag itself is a good product and a recyclable product, and people don't realize that," he said.
Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said that while it is good that grocery stores are encouraging recycling the bags, it's not reaching enough people.
He said he will introduce a bill in the Senate that would still allow grocery stores to have the bags but would require people to pay for them.
"It creates an incentive for people to have reusable bags versus the cost of having to pay for a plastic bag every time they want groceries," he said.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, Yakima County, and a member of the environmental-health committee, said he wasn't in favor of imposing civil fines on grocery stores.
"I'm not opposed to alternatives," he said. "But I really don't know if we need the heavy hand of government to enforce this."
Tom Campbell, R-Roy, and chairman of the committee hearing Chase's bill, said that he was going to listen to all the concerns about the measure, and hoped that they could get it passed this year.
"I don't think there's any question this needs to be done," he said. "It's one of those areas in the environment where we can take action and make a difference. It's just another little thing that makes a big difference in the long run."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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