Are You Ready to Give Up Your Disposable Grocery Bags?

The City of Tacoma is considering considering a disposable bag ban - and they want to know what you think.

Last week the City dipped its toes in the water with an announcement that it may consider placing greater restrictions on disposale shopping bags. The Office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability will be collecting public input to help the council decide whether or not to pursue any such restrictions.

Restrictions would likely apply to retail stores within Tacoma, but not to restaurants and nonprofit charitable organizations. The bags being talked about would be specifically disposable shopping bags of the type typically given out at check out aisles, including both plastic and paper bags. Not included would be bags given with deli or produce purchases, "advertising and promotional bags," bags for pet waste, or yard waste. Plastic garbage bags and other bags could still be sold.

This is not a new idea - in 2014 we wrote that the Sustainable Tacoma Commission had been exploring the idea as a step to reduce the negative environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags. At that time there were a few issues to be considered - the amount of staff time needed to implement and enforce such a ban, and the equity implications of a ban that might have disproportionately negative impacts on low-income residents, particularly those without cars. 

In answer to concerns about equity, the City's information page says that low-income citizens would likely be exempt from restrictions. This could include individuals and families receiving SNAP, WIC, TANF or FAP benefits. The City also might consider providing free reusable bags to low-income individuals.

It is estimated that about 2 billion (yes, with a "B") plastic bags are used in Washington every year. Recycling rates for plastic bags are low - below 6% nationally. Although Tacoma does accept plastic bags for recycling, if they aren’t recycled properly (bundled into one bag and tied at the top), they can jam recycling equipment, causing costly shutdowns. Most bags are thrown away, and many find their way into creeks, rivers, oceans, and highways as litter.

If you have opinions about regulating/restricting/banning plastic bags, there are a couple of public comment opportunities coming up:

  • Through Sunday, December 20, the public is invited to give feedback through an online survey accessible from the City’s website at
  • Give feedback at the Sustainable Tacoma Commission meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 8, from 3:30-5:30 p.m. in the Tacoma Municipal Building (747 Market St., 9th Floor).

Survey results will be discussed at the Infrastructure, Planning and Sustainability Committee meeting on Wednesday, January 13. More information is also available at  

 If the City decides to go with a bag ban or restrictions, the new rules would likely go into effect sometime in 2016.

Are you ready to give up your disposable bags?

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Jim C

If plastic shopping bags are currently recyclable, and they are, I’m not sure what the problem is.  That people don’t recycle them?  People don’t recycle a lot of things they should and we don’t ban them all as a result. I smell smug in the air.

December 1, 2015 at 4:03 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Google it) and many more local mini-examples.  That’s the problem.  Paper bags and reusable bags don’t form giant garbage patches and end up clogging the stomachs of marine life.

December 1, 2015 at 9:46 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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While I’m on the side of disincentivizing plastic bags, the great pacific garbage patch isn’t actually a giant patch of plastic floating on the water. It’s an area of the ocean that has a higher than normal concentration of plastic particles. The garbage island is a persistent myth.

December 2, 2015 at 12:17 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Who said anything about a garbage island?

December 2, 2015 at 6:57 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Free single-use bags have been prevalent in the US for so long that people take them for granted. In many countries, they never were even free and people have always been expected to bring their own or expect to pay.

December 1, 2015 at 7:46 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Like a lot of us, I really hate to see old plastic bags left in people’s front yards ...  often enough, along with other stuff that should have been taken to the dump long ago.

However, with respect to the proposal for permanent bans on plastic grocery bags, I have tried to reach a conclusion on one aspect:  If we can’t have the plastic grocery bags, what are we supposed to do with the kitty litter? Our cats can take themselves outside in reasonable weather, but when winter sets in, both we and our cats would prefer for them to go outside, or, if the weather’s really harsh, we provide a large box of clean kitty litter for them, and we keep it clean for them, which means carrying the kitty deposited material outside to the garbage can ...  in a plastic bag.  No plastic bags????  A paper bag won’t hold up long enough to get to the garbage can, especially if it’s raining long and hard. [Yes, I’ve tried the paper bag, with disastrous results.] There must be many other families who are wondering about this too.

December 1, 2015 at 10:41 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Buy a bunch of bags at the store for a few bucks.  There is no talk of banning the sale of plastic bags.

December 2, 2015 at 6:59 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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Buy a bunch of bags at the store for a few bucks.  There is no talk of banning the sale of plastic bags.

Yeah, on the city’s info page that is linked, they say that they are inly looking to ban the free plastic bags at stores. So you can just go get a box of plastic bags if you need them.

December 2, 2015 at 7:54 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Why does it seem the solution is always to ban something because some people make irresponsible decisions? Why are not there incentives to bring your own bag and recycle more?

We bring our own bags mostly, but not every time.  Sometimes we are in a hurry and forget. Sometimes we are just stopping in for a quick couple items and don’t have a bag with us.  And sometimes we just need a plastic bag or two. 

Our household reuses plastic bags for our garbage bags and other uses as appropriate.  We also recycle the bags that become damaged and no longer useful.  I know not every household does this, but again why aren’t we encouraging more to do this?

Before banning or charging for all plastic bags I would like to see a limit placed on these.  Maybe a person should be allowed one or two freebies per transaction??

December 1, 2015 at 11:13 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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The things that bugs me are the litterers mostly from convenience stores with useless humans buying single cans of beer in cans often times in a bag and then drinking them walking home and littering the streets with these cans or bags or those littering with cigarette packages.Or stupid kids littering on their way from home with their candy wrappers with plastics bags too.Or the worthless humans that litter streets with fast food bags or empty drinking containers.
There should be more taxation to fund city crew teams or jail trustees or those doing community service time to keep our city streets cleaner because of the dumb worthless humans that shouldn’t have been born in the first place that litter,
Also I think that use once type plastic or paper bags are a waste of petroleum products.

December 2, 2015 at 11:21 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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You’re the moralizing piece of garbage here. Yeah, littering is bad, but your smug a** can’t see past your own up-turned nose to the root of all that behavior. You’re no better than the law-and-order types who think the cure for drug addiction is a long prison sentence. Also, your jihad against oil is such a tired schtick. Just stop.

December 2, 2015 at 5:36 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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I disagree incarceration does not change bad behavior rather it can create resentment.Corporal punishment teaches the brain that there is pain for a bad action just like if you put your hand on a hot stove you learn from the past experience not to do it again.In some forward thinking progressive Asian countries people are correctly lashed for littering and this leads towards better behavior as well as having cleaner streets.

December 3, 2015 at 8:42 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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I have a bus stop on the planting strip adjacent to my home.  95+% by quantity as well as north of 65% of the volume of litter is cigarette related, and since I can observe the stop from a position that lets me remain unseen I can also tell you that practically all of the litter that is not cigarettes or cigarette packages is also placed there by people who are smoking and throwing their cigarette buts on the ground while waiting for the bus.  Smokers board the bus at that stop are pretty much universally filthy disgusting slobs.  My suspicions are that the smoking population in general isn’t going to be much different.

December 3, 2015 at 11:26 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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It’s against Pierce Transit’s rules for someone to smoke within 50 feet of a transit stop.You should file a complaint or several with Pierce Transit.Take their pictures too (from a distance not near your home as to be safe) for documentation purposes.Take pictures of the litter as well and get your neighbors involved on this blight issue.

December 3, 2015 at 5:07 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Biblical Product

Incentivize bringing your own bag? I’ll be onboard if the bags have a tax placed on them which is used for environmental protection and clean up purposes. How about $1 per bag? $2? What would incentivize you to bring your own bag?

“Needing” a bag to carry home a pack of gum, box of pasta, or a jug of milk would starts to make a little less sense.

December 2, 2015 at 12:35 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Pretty much all you need to know about this is it is coming from the same elected and appointed wankers who give their buddies at the propaganda wing of City Hall, aka The News Buffoon, a pass when they wish to proffit from littering your lawn and driveway with pink PLASTIC BAGS with unsolicited advertising inside.

December 2, 2015 at 10:09 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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Ironic that plastic bags would be the current topic at City Hall when there’s a methanol plant being proposed in the tideflats.  It’s sorta like that time when the City was after people who were stapling one square foot size paper posters to utility poles and fining them while Clear Channel got away with 400 square foot billboards on metal sticks.

Carry on.

December 3, 2015 at 8:22 am / Reply / Quote and reply

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