Olympia might join region’s plastic bag-ban trend

Olympia is poised to become the third jurisdiction in Thurston County to ban thin, grocery-style plastic bags.

The Olympia City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ban Tuesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 601 Fourth Ave. E. If approved, the prohibition would take effect in July, along with bans recently approved in Tumwater and unincorporated Thurston County.

Lacey is planning an open house on the topic for next month, according to Terri Thomas, waste reduction supervisor for Thurston County.

If adopted, the ban would apply to all retailers but mostly affect supermarkets. Shoppers will either have to bring their own reusable bags to stores or pay 5 cents per paper bag. Stores will keep the money to offset costs.

Other plastic bags, such as the thin bags used for meat or produce and the thicker plastic bags used by department stores, are exempt from the ban. Newspaper bags, doggie bags and dry cleaning bags are also exempt.

Packages of garbage bags are not part of the ban.

County leaders have been mulling a bag ban for the last couple of years, concerned with the effects of the bags on the environment. A county advisory committee recommended a ban, and the Olympia City Council recommended earlier this year that the city draw up a ban.

“Plastic bags are the most common consumer product in the US, with the average resident using 350-500 bags per year,” a city staff report says. “Each bag on average is used for only 12 minutes. Single-use plastic bags contaminate curbside recycling streams and cause litter problems. Only an estimated 5 to 8 percent get recycled annually. Thurston County consumes approximately 90 million bags each year.”

Major supermarkets and the Northwest Grocery Association support the ban, as does LeMay Inc., which stopped recycling the county’s plastic bag recycler this month, citing a lack of a market.

The plastic bag industry opposes the move.

“A better policy would be a comprehensive program to educate residents on plastic bag recycling,” says a news release from the American Progressive Bag Alliance.