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Fred Meyer plastic bags

Longview resident Karen Hudson walks out of Fred Meyer with a cart full of plastic grocery bags Tuesday afternoon.

Cowlitz County’s two state senators are divided about a bill to ban all single-use plastic bags, a move supporters say would protect the environment but would also charge customers a small fee.

“Something’s gotta be done. I think this is a step in the right direction,” said state Sen. Dean Takko, a Longview Democrat. “I recognize that something has to be done about the overuse of plastic bags. ... The big issue is — what do you charge?”

If it passes the House, Senate Bill 5323 would give grocers and retailers until 2020 to exhaust their current supply of plastic bags and require them to sell paper bags only at 8 cents each. Customers could either pay the fee — which is still subject to change by the House — or bring their own reusable bags at no charge.

The bill passed the Senate 31-14 on March 5 and is now before the House.

Takko said he’d prefer to see the cost for paper bags — which are more expensive for stores to purchase than plastic bags — embedded in the cost of products sold at stores. However, he said he doesn’t expect most customers to have a big problem with paying a small fee per bag.

He said the House may try to increase or lower the paper bag fee, but conversation among state senators suggests the final range would be between a nickel and a dime to help offset the cost for grocers.

Takko said he often brings his own reusable bags for groceries and expects most customers would do the same. He said he expects the bill to ultimately pass, as “most people are behind the issue of getting rid of plastic bags.”

But state Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) voted against the bill. He said he’s in favor of the switch from plastic bags, but he disagrees that shoppers should be responsible for the cost.

“(Paper bags) don’t cost 10 cents. (The bill) became a money-making opportunity for grocers and I think ... it will drive down paper bag sales over time,” Braun said. “It’s a renewable product that we can and should use. We shouldn’t be charging (customers) a fee.”

Braun said he would be more likely to support the bill if the House reduces or eliminates the fee.

Braun acknowledged that discouraging use of plastic bags is important for the environment but said consumers won’t support the fee.

Mark Johnson, senior vice president of policy and government affairs for the Washington Retail Association, said the association supports it despite historically opposing plastic bag bans.

Johnson said the Washington Retail Association still contends customers should have the right to decide how to carry groceries home, but it supports SB 5323 because some Washington cities and counties have already passed such a ban. The inconsistency makes statewide business difficult.

“The smaller (stores) aren’t excited about being told what they can and can’t offer their customers,” Johnson said. “What consumers and retailers agree to put their items in should be up to them and not the government.”

Johnson estimates that 95 percent of the bill’s impact will be felt by grocery stores, but he also said if the bill passes, it’s likely to “entice” customers to bring their own bags from home.

Jo Ann Long, who lives in Longview, said she would consider bringing her own reusable bags for groceries if the bill passes. Though she currently uses both paper and plastic, she reuses her plastic bags at home for trash can liners and pet waste.

Long said she agrees with the environmental concerns behind Bill 5323, even though plastic bags are more convenient.

“I think it probably needs to change,” Long said. “We’re a paper products town, too.”

A Kelso shopper who only identified herself as Heather said she strongly disagrees with Bill 5323, citing customers’ right to choose their own bags and misunderstandings about plastic bags.

“They’re more durable than people think they are,” Heather said, adding that she uses them to make purses and crafts, for trash bags in her home and for pet supplies. She said almost every plastic bag she brings home is used at least once more.

Heather also said paper bags have environmental concerns, too, as they are more likely to be burned, causing air pollution.

“I just think customer should get to decide for themselves, that’s all,” she said.

The bill was sponsored by first-year Sen. Mona Das (D-Kent), who cited environmental concerns in her support. Takko said about 25 Washington cities already have similar bans in place, and several states have already passed statewide bans.

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