Cutting Down on Plastic

Bag Bans Prove Popular and Successful
Released by: Environment Washington

Plastic pollution poses a major threat to Washington’s ecosystems. Plastic never fully biodegrades and often harms wildlife like turtles, whales, and seals. Once in the water, plastic breaks down into small pieces called microplastics. These microplastics absorb toxins, moving them into the food chain. A large part of this plastic problem is single-use plastic bags. Every year, Washington uses over 2 billion plastic bags, over 95% of which end up in landfills or as litter

Increased awareness of this problem, especially as a threat to wildlife in Puget Sound, has led a growing number of cities to take or consider action to reduce the use of plastic bags.  This report examines how businesses and consumers have adjusted to and view the recently adopted bans on plastic bags in Seattle and Bellingham.

Seven Washington cities have already passed bans on plastic bags.

In 2009, Edmonds was the first city in Washington State to pass a local ban on plastic bags. Since then, six other cities passed plastic bag bans, including Bellingham, Mukilteo, Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Port Townsend, and Issaquah.

Plastic Bag Bans Reduce Plastic Pollution and Encourage Environmentally Friendly Behavior

Prior to implementing bans on plastic bags, approximately 290 million plastic bags were distributed Seattle and 30 million in Bellingham each year. In order to determine the success of the plastic bag bans, we conducted a survey of 1,291 consumers and 96 retail stores in Seattle and Bellingham during the month of October 2012. We found that consumers and businesses overwhelmingly support the bag bans there and that eliminating disposable plastic bags has increased the number of people using reusable bags. 

Major Survey Findings:

  • The majority of consumers surveyed in Seattle and Bellingham report that the bag ban has prompted them to bring their own bag more often.
  • 96% of supermarket employees in Seattle and 100% of employees in Bellingham report that since the bag ban passed, more customers are bringing their own bags to the store
  • 64% of consumers in Seattle and 67% of consumers surveyed in Bellingham agree with the bag ban.
  • 61% of businesses agree with the bag ban.

More Action Must Be Taken to Decrease Plastic Pollution

  • To further address the plastic problem, all Washington cities and counties should restrict the use of plastic bags, and advocate for similar action at the state level.
  • Washington State should pass a statewide ban on single use plastic bags.