OLYMPIA -- Legislators will consider making Washington the first state in the nation to ban the use of plastic grocery bags.
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, said his bill will make carryout plastic bags disappear and charge 5 cents for each paper bag.
The "paper or plastic" debate figures to be a theme this session. Fitzgibbon said his HB 2404 will be one of the five bag bills to be introduced.
"Many members of the business community are interested in dealing with plastic bags in a state-wide way," Fitzgibbon said.
No state has approved a ban, according to the McClatchy News Service. San Francisco was the first city to ban the bags.
In Washington, Bellingham, Edmonds, Mukilteo and Seattle already have restrictions on plastic bags, but each city has different regulations. That poses a problem for grocery store chains.
Melinda Merrill, a Fred Meyer spokeswoman, said the Northwest Grocery Association supports HB 2404 because it will make for uniformity.
Merrill told the Herald she has been using reusable bags for more than five years.
"You won't go back once you use them," she said.
A single reusable bag can carry the same number of items as three to five disposable plastic bags, Merrill said.
Fitzgibbon also said he has been using reusable bags for five years -- when he can remember to bring them to the store, that is.
Robb Krehbiel, program associate for Environment Washington, said remembering to bring reusable bags into the store becomes a habit.
"When you want to drive somewhere, you remember your keys. When you want to buy groceries, you remember your bags. It's no different," he said.
Merrill said Fred Meyer tested a ban on plastic bags at its Portland stores, but most shoppers merely resorted to paper bags rather than reusable bags.
Paper bags sound "green," but they also have a carbon footprint.
However, paper bags can be made from Washington timber by Washington companies, so they are a more sustainable alternative, Fitzgibbon said.
According to Krehbiel, Washington uses 2 billion plastic bags a year, and 95 percent of those do not get recycled. Instead, the bags break down into tiny pieces of plastic and get dispersed into the environment.
In 2010, a gray whale that washed up near West Seattle died with more than 20 plastic bags in its stomach.
Krehbiel said one in 10 gulls ingest plastic, and a University of Washington study found plastic in all of its water samples from Puget Sound. As fish ingest the water, the plastic enters the food chain, he said.
"Nothing we use for a few minutes should ever stay in the environment for millions of years," Krehbeil said.