Frequently Asked Questions About Bellingham’s Proposed Ordinance
Regulating Retail Establishments Provision of Single-use Carryout Bags
How are single-use plastic carryout bags harmful to the environment?
1- They are consumed in extremely high volumes (approximately 22 million per year in Bellingham).
2- They are made from non-renewable resources.
3- They are designed to be disposable (rather than reusable) average time used is 12 minutes.
4- Most are down cycled; not recycled.
5- They are a significant and visible component of litter.
6- They remain in the environment as marine, storm drain, and beach pollution.
7- Plastic does not biodegrade it photo-degrades and while smaller; it remains forever.
8- Plastic bags are a significant hazard to marine animals and birds, which often mistake them for food.
9- Beach and ocean clean up is of no use, unless the migration of plastic bags and other plastic pollution which ultimately migrates to our oceans is stopped at the source. The demise of the oceans and its mammals and birds will continue to get worse.
Why are reusable bags better for the environment?
The environmental degradation that is caused by the continued use of single-use carryout plastic bags and paper bags is a very compelling reason to use reusable bags. Reusable bags do not pollute the environment, and help reduce landfill waste because they are used again and again. Therefore, Bellingham residents and taxpayers do not have to pay the clean-up costs and landfill fees related to disposable of single-use carryout bags.
I reuse my plastic bags in many ways; lining trash cans, lunch bags, pet waste, etc. What am I going to do?
You will still have many plastic bags to reuse for these functions because produce bags and other bags used in store are not carryout bags. All bags except carryout bags are exempt from this ordinance.
Why is there a 5 cent charge on recycled paper carryout bags?
This is to encourage the customer to use reusable bags. The cost pass-through also helps reimburse retailers for the costs of providing recycled paper carryout bags to their customers. All of the revenue from the cost pass-through remains with the store.
How do I avoid paying 5 cents for each recycled paper bag?
It’s easy! Remember to bring your own reusable bags to the store. Some stores will even offer you a credit for bringing your own bag!
What is the City of Bellingham’s definition of a reusable bag?
“Reusable bag” means a bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and meets all of the following requirements: Is made of cloth or other fabric, machine washable, or made of durable plastic that is at least 2.25 mils thick.
What stores must comply with this ordinance?
All retail establishments are prohibited from providing “single-use plastic carryout bags” to customers at the point of sale. Retail establishments shall provide to a customer at the point of sale a reusable bag or recycled paper bag except for food providers for the purpose of safeguarding public health and safety during the transportation of hot prepared take-out foods and prepared liquids intended for consumption away from the Food Provider's premises.
Which stores will charge for single-use paper bags?
All stores that carry the recycled paper carryout bags typically found in grocery stores, convenience stores, mini-marts, liquor stores and pharmacies.
Are there any exceptions to this regulation? YES.
The Single-use Carryout Bag Ordinance does NOT prohibit the distribution of plastic “produce bags” such as those distributed within a grocery store for bagging produce or meat. Stores are required to provide customers participating in Washington State’s low-income food assistance program, Washington’s Special Supplemental Food program for Women, Infants and Children and customers participating in Medicaid with a reusable bag or recycled paper bag at no cost at point of sale. Because of federal and privacy regulations, Pharmacy prescription bags have no pass-through cost. There is also a public health and safety exemption for restaurants and other food providers, allowing them to provide single-use plastic bags for the transportation of prepared take-out food and liquids. Distribution of all single-use carryout bags; plastic, bioplastic or paper is prohibited at Farmers’ Markets. The farmers’ markets are allowed the use of plastic produce bags and small paper bags for mushrooms (free of charge)
What is the City of Bellingham’s definition of a recycled paper carryout bag?
1. Except as provided in subsection(2), the paper carryout bag contains an average of 40 percent postconsumer recycled materials.
2. An eight pound or smaller recycled paper bag shall contain an average of 20 percent postconsumer recycled material.
3. The paper carryout bag is accepted for recycling in curbside programs in a majority of households that have access to curbside recycling programs in the City. (Take your plastic bags and other plastic film to your grocer or to the downtown recyling center for recyling. Currently residential curbside recycling for plasic bags and film is not available.)
4. The paper carryout bag is capable of comTesting and Material (ASTM) Standard Specification for Compostable Plastics D6400, as published in September 2004.
5. Printed on the paper carryout bag is the percentage of postconsumer content.
What main sources did you cite in your ordinance?
Master Environmental Assessment on Single Use and Reusable Bags, ICF
International. March 2010
International Coastal Clean Up 2009 Report.
Fighting the Tide of Plastic Bags in A World Awash with Waste www.cnn.com. July 2008
Seattle’s Alternatives to Disposable Shopping Bags and Food Service Items Report. Prepared for Seattle Public Utilities. January 2008
Californians Against Waste – a letter sent in response to questions about economic factors.
Complied by Bag It Bellingham 3/04/2011