The Tacoma City Council passed the Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB) ordinance on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. The law regulates the use of carryout bags and will go into effect in one year. The main elements of the law are:
- Thin plastic carryout bags will no longer be distributed at any Tacoma retail establishments.
- Retail establishments will collect a minimum pass-through charge of five cents for each recycled paper or reusable carryout bag requested by customers.
- Those with EBT/WIC/TANF benefits will not have to pay the pass-through charge on paper bags.
Bags other than carryout bags, such as produce bags, dry cleaning bags and newspaper bags, will continue to be available for free. The law follows the same carryout bag restriction model that 12 other communities in Washington State have implemented.
During the one year implementation period City staff will distribute free reusable bags, conduct focused engagement in low-income communities, and provide educational resources to businesses. Staff will also conduct a study of the impacts of the law after implementation. Annually, retailers will be asked to report to the City on the number of recycled paper carryout bags distributed to help determine effectiveness of the law.
View the BYOB ordinance and the one year implementation plans.
Check this webpage often for updates including BYOB educational resources.
A Brief Bag History
The original “t-shirt” plastic bag was designed in Sweden in 1965 and in the late 1970’s it began appearing in American grocery stores. They were markedly less expensive than paper bags for the grocers to purchase. In 1982, Safeway and Kroeger switched from paper to single-use plastic shopping bags, and by the early 2000s, they had secured more than 80% of the grocery and convenience store market in the US. Regulations on the use of plastic bags began as early as the 1990s.
Why restrict single-use shopping bags?
An estimated two billion single-use plastic shopping bags are used in Washington State each year and most end up in the landfill or as litter, according to a study by the Environment Washington Research & Policy Center.
By their nature, plastic bags do not biodegrade, but rather break down into smaller and smaller pieces to become micro-plastics (Environment Washington Research & Policy Center) and can cause harm to marine wildlife. When recycled improperly, plastic bags jam equipment; increasing downtime, maintenance and labor costs.
The Washington State Department of Ecology estimates that it costs $700-$1,000 per ton for recycling centers to remove plastic films from other recyclables. Watch the video below to see an example of this in action. To properly recycle plastic bags in Tacoma, bundle the bags into a single plastic bag and tie it closed at the top and put it in the recycle bin.
While paper bags are recycled at a significantly higher rate than single-use plastic bags, a paper bag produces significantly more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over its lifetime. Manufacturing paper bags results in greater atmospheric acidification, water consumption, and ozone production than plastic bags (Green Cities California). Recycling the bags at the end of their life also takes resources. In shopping bags, the best bag to use is the bag you reuse – dozens, if not hundreds of times!
Other communities’ approaches to single-use shopping bags
Several nations, from Ireland to South Africa, and more than 100 local communities, including Laredo, TX, Sacramento, CA, Washington, D.C., and 14 communities in Washington State, have taken steps to reduce their use of single-use shopping bags. The European Union voted in April 2016 to reduce the use of plastic bags. These cities, counties and countries are making the switch to more sustainable carryout bag options by using price signals and bans that encourage shoppers to choose reusable bags more often. The results generally show that plastic bag waste and litter decrease, and reusable shopping bag use increases.
Frequently Asked Questions