Environment Washington Research & Policy Center
Puget Sound is threatened by plastic pollution. Plastic trash persists for hundreds of years and can kill or harm whales, turtles, seabirds and other marine animals.
Single use plastic bags are a significant part of the problem. To reduce ocean pollution and protect the environment, dozens of national and local governments across the planet have taken official action to reduce or eliminate single use plastic bags.
State and local governments in Washington should follow their lead and ban the use of plastic grocery bags. Plastic bags contribute to the pollution of Puget Sound.
- Washingtonians use over 2 billion plastic bags per year. Nationwide, less than 6 percent of plastic bags are recycled. Instead, they end up sitting in landfills, littering streets, clogging streams, fouling beaches, or floating in the Sound.
- Researchers at the University of Washington-Tacoma have found plastic pollution in every water sample they have taken from Puget Sound.
- In April 2010, a dead grey whale washed up on the beach in West Seattle. It had 20 plastic bags in its stomach.
- In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, researchers found that 12.2 percent of gulls consume plastic – half of which was thin-film, like what plastic bags are made of.
- On beaches of Orcas Island, volunteers collected more than 10,000 pieces of micro-plastic in one day of cleanup work, including pieces of plastic bags.
More than 80 national and local governments around the world have taken action to protect the ocean by reducing the use of plastic bags.
- At least 20 nations and 88 local governments have passed bans on distributing thin plastic or other types of disposable plastic bags, including the nations of Italy, Kenya, Mongolia, Macedonia, and Bangladesh; the states of Maharashtra, India and Buenos Aires, Argentina; and the cities of Karachi, Pakistan and Telluride, Colorado.
- Approximately 26 nations and local communities have established fee programs to reduce plastic bag use and/or increase the use of reusable alternatives, including Botswana, China, Hong Kong, Wales, Ireland, Israel, Canada’s Northwest Territories, Toronto, Mexico City, and Washington, D.C.
Bans and meaningful fee programs effectively reduce plastic bag pollution.
- Ireland, which in 2002 established a fee roughly equivalent to 28 U.S. cents per bag, saw plastic bag use drop by 90 percent within the first year.
- After Washington, D.C., implemented a much smaller 5-cent tax on plastic bags, the number of plastic bags distributed by food retailers fell from 22.5 million per month to 3.3 million per month.
- The year after banning plastic bags at pharmacies and supermarkets in 2007, San Francisco businesses distributed 127 million fewer plastic bags, and cut overall bag waste reaching the city landfill by up to 10 percent.
Two Washington cities have already taken action to reduce plastic bag pollution.
- Edmonds was the first city in Washington to ban plastic bags, adopting a ban in 2009.
- More recently, Bellingham adopted a ban on thin-plastic carry-home bags and a 5 cents fee on paper bags in July 2011.
- Other cities, including Seattle, Lake Forest Park, and Mukilteo, are actively considering bag bans.
Much more progress can be made to reduce plastic pollution in Puget Sound and transform our throwaway culture.
- Education and recycling cannot keep pace with the generation of plastic bag pollution. For example, despite a 2006 law in California requiring retailers to place bag recycling bins in front of their stores, less than 5 percent of bags there are recycled.
- To make a real impact, all Washington cities and counties should restrict the use of plastic bags, and advocate for similar action at the state level.