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Plastic grocery bags face extinction

Top Foods in Federal Way displays its reusable bags in the front of its store. Pictured behind the bags is employee Regina Bartlotti. - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
Top Foods in Federal Way displays its reusable bags in the front of its store. Pictured behind the bags is employee Regina Bartlotti.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

By JACINDA HOWARD, The Mirror

Washington state could become the first to ban plastic checkout bags in grocery stores.

Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, introduced a bill this legislative session aimed at decreasing the use of plastic bags in grocery stores. The bill would hold the stores responsible for offering recyclable, reusable or compostable checkout bags instead of plastic ones, which harm the environment and are petroleum-based.

Stores complying with the measure could receive a tax credit. Those ignoring the legislation could be fined $500.

The movement to ban plastic grocery bags in the United States began in San Francisco last year. Local Federal Way grocers — Top Foods, Fred Meyer and Metropolitan Market — all said they have been following the issue since that time.

“We are absolutely aware of this legislation,” said Becky Skaggs, Top Foods/Haggen Corporation spokeswoman.

Each has already made efforts to become more environmentally friendly, including offering recycling stations for plastic bags and the option to purchase a recycled reusable bag. The grocery industry has stepped up to the plate in taking the initiative to be environmentally friendly, Fred Meyer spokeswoman Melinda Merrill said.

Current efforts to reduce plastic bag use:

“To be honest with you, there aren’t many stores out there that do not have a reusable bag option,” Merrill said.

The three Federal Way grocers interviewed currently offer a reusable polypropylene shopping bag with material made from recycled post consumer plastic. The bags are washable and safe for holding meat products. They have been welcomed by customers.

Metropolitan Market recently introduced a bigger, more fashionable polypropylene bag than it offered in previous years, said Brad Halverson, Metropolitan Market vice president of marketing.

The large, white bags are structured to make check-out faster and feature two strap lengths, Halverson said.

“Why not create a bag where customers can be proud to use it in other settings and feel good about it?” he asked.

Fred Meyer started offering its reusable black bags in March. Customers can purchase fancier decorated reusable bags for about $5 as well, Merrill said.

“Once you start using them, you won’t go back,” she said.

Top Foods introduced bright red bags in May. The longer they are in the store, the more customers are attracted to the bags, Center Store Manager Aaron Roberts said.

“We blew through them faster than we could ever have imagined,” Skaggs said.

Customer reaction:

Barbara Janssen, Auburn resident and Federal Way Top Foods shopper, only uses reusable bags, she said.

“I think we should have done it a long time ago,” Janssen said of the legislation.

Top Foods customers and Federal Way residents Jay Habben and Rita Dunn both said they know that the store offers reusable bags. Though they agreed the bags were a good idea, they admitted they do not use the product.

“I should be more pro-active,” Habben said after saying he’s environmentally friendly “when it’s convenient.”

Not everyone is keen on the idea of eliminating plastic bags. Northeast Tacoma resident Brieanne West has three kids. Remembering to bring reusable, recycled or compostable bags to the grocery store would be difficult, she said.

“I don’t like the tote bags,” West said.

Federal Way resident Brenna Lince prefers plastic bags because she uses them at home. Both women wondered if requiring the switch in checkout bags would have a significant impact on the environment, given that the stores already offer the option to recycle plastic bags on site or reuse them for a 5-cent per bag credit.

Effectiveness of the proposed legislation:

Merrill also wonders how effective the legislation would be if passed. Plastic bags cost about 1 cent to make and paper bags cost about 4 cents, she said.

Depending on what kind of legislation is passed, the switch in bags could be expensive for large grocers, she said. The increased price for bags could be passed on to the customers.

Merrill and Skaggs both said they would have a tough time finding suppliers to keep up with the demand in polypropylene bags.

Furthermore, requiring only the grocery industry to eliminate plastic bags will not fully accomplish the goal of protecting the environment, Merrill said. Department stores will still be allowed to bag merchandise in plastic.

Either banning all plastic bags or providing incentives for customers to choose materials other than plastic may better accomplish the goal, Merrill said.

“If you are going to pass a ban on (plastic) bags, then pass it completely,” she said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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Around the world:

Before coming to Federal Way Metropolitan Market, cashier Sandee Adair lived in Europe. There, grocery store customers are expected to bring their own bags to the store, she said. Those who forget their bags are charged 50 cents for the purchase of a plastic bag, Adair said. San Francisco shoppers have faced a 17 cents charge per plastic bag since 2005.

Auburn resident Barbara Janssen remembers when she hosted a German exchange student 20 years ago. The student was surprised to learn that Americans did not bring their own reusable checkout bags to the grocery store, Janssen said.

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Check it out:

To learn more about the proposed ban on plastic checkout bags at grocery stores, visit the Washington State Legislature Web site at www.leg.wa.gov/legislature and read House Bill 2424.

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