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Grocery Bag. Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas.

Washington’s new state-wide “single-use” plastic bag ban was supposed to be effective on January 1 of this year. In a normal year, such a ban would have no impact on the claimed environmental problems it was supposed to solve, while still being a wasteful, Soviet-style attempt at micro-managing the lives of people in the state. But in an ongoing pandemic state of emergency, it looks particularly out of touch, and becomes an enormously counter-productive piece of legislation. That’s why the Governor, and the legislature itself, are frantically trying to paper over the situation they both created, by repeatedly delaying the ban from coming into effect.

It’s unconscionable that the legislature felt that this non-issue took legislative priority in the beginning stages of this Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, even after the Governor’s state of emergency was declared. Couldn’t our legislators have tabled the normal business and turned to looking ahead, discussing and planning ways to ease the severe impacts that would soon be felt by residents and small business owners due to Governor Inslee's heavy-handed pandemic response? Instead, they had to be spending their limited time in session on adding new taxes and banning useful things. (Things which, as it turns out, are even more useful in a pandemic).

Unfortunately, all of our own 12th District Republican representatives were a supporting part of this socially manipulative bag ban legislation. Rep. Keith Goehner, Rep. Mike Steele and Sen. Brad Hawkins, all voted for passing the ban. Rep. Goehner, the only legislator to respond to my inquiries about the bill’s votes, indicated that the bill was a product of special interests. Well, I suppose that much is obvious to everyone. My question is, when will the people’s interests rate as highly as the special interests?

The problems with the bag ban, passed as SB 5323, are there regardless, but we have the pandemic reaction to thank for making some inherent issues very obvious in a short amount of time.

Mere weeks after it was passed by the Legislature, the upcoming bag ban looked especially ludicrous when the intended alternative of reusable tote bags was banned by grocery retailers statewide due to potential transmission risks caused by contact with more people and surfaces.

The reasons the Governor claims for continuing to delay the bag ban are because factories that would normally make the replacement bags have already retooled to make hospital gowns and other PPE for pandemic uses. Also, alternatives to the banned bags “are not available in ample quantities”, which should be read as “the alternatives are all much more expensive”. Re-configuring factories and supply chains to meet the mandated bag requirements is certainly expensive, and ultimately, represents a less-efficient allocation of resources. The pandemic resource shortages and supply chain problems have laid bare these significant economic costs, and the enormous resource shifting required for such mandates.

Even the very name of the targeted product – “single use plastic bags” - is incorrect, as studies have found that more than 75% of such bags were reused in some way. We certainly reuse ours, and you likely do too. The false premise of “single use” continues by claiming positive environmental benefits for the bag law, based on reusing bags that are largely already being reused.

The failure of similar bag bans to live up to their various environmental claims is well-documented, but it is especially interesting to note that, with the Washington bag ban, very thin plastic bags are to be replaced by much thicker bags, containing significantly more plastic material. So plastic consumption by weight goes way up, and it also costs people more.

While I’m very disappointed in the state legislature as a whole, I do expect better from my Republican representatives. I expect them to live up to their claimed ideals of freedom and less regulation, I also expect them to leave me alone to choose the particulars of my own life, even down to minutia such as what sort of bag I choose at the grocery checkout.

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