March 9, 2020, 33 state senators voted to pass , making Washington the ninth state to ban single-use plastic bags. Two days later, the World Health Organization classified the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. Along with in-person gatherings, the statewide plastic bag ban became an early victim of the pandemic. “The pandemic has thrown off so many plans with our loved ones, our lifestyle and with this legislation,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, affectionately dubbed “The Single-Use Plastic Warrior” by her colleague, Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle.
Senate Bill 5323 was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2021, isn’t dead, supporters say, but enforcement has been indefinitely postponed. The state law was inspired by 38 local ordinances around Washington that regulate plastic bags. Holly Chisa of the Northwest Grocery Association said some of those local regulations resulting in Washington cities seeing 85% of customers using reusable bags. As Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature dried on the plastic bag ban, those hard-fought wins for environmentalists were reversed by a virus-induced renaissance of single-use plastic bags.
For state Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, the ban was more than 10 years in the making. During his time on Edmonds City Council, he helped pass the state’s first local jurisdiction plastic bag ban. An environmental justice organization known as Algalita inspired Peterson when it visited the council as part of an educational tour on the West Coast.