Following the passage of SB 5323, a bill eliminating single use plastic carry out bags, Washington State now becomes the eigth state to pass a statewide policy addressing this chronic source of plastic pollution via the legislature.  The bill passed with strong bi-partisan support by a vote of 67-29 in the House, and a concurrence vote of 35-15 in the Senate. The bill now heads to Governor Jay Inslee for signature and we call upon him for his swift passage and continued environmental leadership on this issue.

Sen. Mona Das (D-Kent) sponsored Senate Bill 5323, which is supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including retailers and environmentalists. 

“Today is such a victory for Washington,” said Das. “Our beautiful shoreline is increasingly littered with plastic waste, and it hurts our state. It’s not good for animals, for natural habitats, for our planet. It’s not good for us. We bear a responsibility to make this right, and today we took responsible action.”

“The actions we take today affect the Washington we will leave for future generations,” said Rep. Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds), sponsor of the companion House bill. “Plastic pollution has gotten worse in the 11 years since I first championed a reusable bag ordinance while on the Edmonds city council. Reducing plastic bag pollution means healthier waterways, more robust fish populations, and cleaner forests. I am excited to see this get over the finish line.”

This bill would allow retailers — including grocers — to provide paper bags or reusable, plastic film, 2.25 mil bags for 8 cents each. The reusable bags must meet standards for strength, durability and recycled content. The 8-cent pass-through charge would help retailers recover the costs of the paper or durable plastic bags and create an incentive for shoppers to bring their own bags. In 2026, the allowed plastic film bags would increase in thickness from 2.25 to 4 mil and the pass-through charge would increase to 12 cents.

Shoppers who bring their own reusable bags would not be charged. People using the State Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program; or the state Food Assistance Program (FAP) would also not be subject to the pass-through charge. The bill covers all retail establishments in Washington, including restaurants. Customers who bring their own reusable bags will also not pay any charge. 

Thirty-eight jurisdictions throughout Washington state — comprising about one-third of Washington’s jurisdictions, and hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians — have enacted plastic bag ban measures, up from 28 jurisdictions when this bill was heard on the Senate floor in March of 2019. SB 5323 is modeled after those local laws and applies one uniform set of regulations to the state. The approach of this bill fully alligns with effective plastic bag policy as outlined in the Surfrider Foundation Plastic Bag Law Activist Toolkit.

“Although we weren’t the first in the country to pass a statewide plastic bag ban, the policy that was passed is very comprehensive, with equitable coverage including restaurants,” said Gus Gates, Washington Policy Manager with the Surfrider Foundation. “The passage of the Reusable Bag bill is an important step in Washington’s efforts to eliminate a chronic source of plastic pollution from our watersheds, beaches, and ocean.”

Single-use plastics are polluting our environment and harming wildlife in the ocean, in rivers, and on our surrounding lands. Washington residents use and estimated 2 billion single-use plastic bags every year, and fewer than 6% of them get recycled.  Plastic has been documented in nearly 700 species of marine life, including gray whales found washed up on the shores of the Salish Sea. Plastic bags also cause operational and contamination problems at recycling and compost facilities by clogging machinery.

Surfrider Foundation Washington Chapters have been addressing the impacts of marine debris for many years, leading hundreds of beach cleanups, and working on source reduction policies by supporting local plastic bag bans in various communities. Surfrider worked closely with a coalition partners including Environment Washington, Puget Soundkeeper, Seattle Aquarium, Zero Waste Washington, as well as the Washington Environmental Priorities Coalition. Additionally, the NW Grocers Association, Independent Grocers, hospitality, recycling and composting industry representatives played an instrumental role in helping pass this policy. 

“The passage of this bill has been a long time coming with many great people and organiztions collectively working on this in their communities to keep the ball rolling towards a statewide approach,” says longtime South Sound Chapter leader Ken Campbell. “This is an important victory, not only for Surfrider Foundation and our dedicated volunteers, but also the entire State of Washington.”

“The Washington Surfrider Chapters would like to extend our gratitude to Representative Peterson and Senator Das for their leadership in addressing this important issue. Having passed a similar local ordinance in Bellingham in 2011, we have seen the numbers of plastics bags choking our waterways decrease significantly. With this milestone for our state, we hope to see further progress made to reduce other single-use plastics to better protect our ocean, waves, and beaches and all who enjoy them.” Eleanor Hines, Northwest Straits Chapter Chair. 

The approach of this bill of a bag ban/fee hybrid is also one component of the comprehensive Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act on the national level that we are supporting, show your support via our action alert today