New policies to reduce ocean plastics

Plastic on the beach

 

Plastic in the ocean is a very serious—and growing—issue. Approximately 8.8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. Seabirds, sea turtles, dolphins, whales and other animals die every year because they get tangled up in plastic or fill up their stomachs on plastic they mistake for food.

To help address this crisis, the Seattle Aquarium worked hard last year to advance a Reusable Bag Bill in Washington state. Although the bill gained a lot of positive attention and press, it did not quite make it to a final vote. Now we are picking up where we left off and working to get it across the finish line! We are also glad to be working with our partners on several other bills to address other kinds of plastic pollution.

 

WHAT WILL THE REUSABLE BAG BILL DO?

The Reusable Bag Bill (HB 1205/SB 5323) prohibits the use of thin single-use plastic carryout bags at retailers across the state of Washington. Retailers will be able to provide 40% postconsumer content recycled paper bags and thicker, durable plastic film bags at checkout at a cost of 8 cents to customers who don’t bring their own reusable bags. The charge covers the cost to stores of providing the more expensive paper bags and thick plastic bags and will also incentivize customers to bring their own reusable bags. Food banks and participants in food assistance programs are exempt from the charge. Produce bags, newspaper bags, dry cleaning bags and small bags for things like prescription drugs are also exempt from the bag requirements.

The proposed law builds off 37 existing local ordinances (as of December 2019) that have already banned plastic bags in Washington communities. It would put in place one consistent policy statewide to promote the use of reusable bags and reduce plastic pollution in our ocean and waterways. A recent poll found that 69% of Washington voters support a ban on plastic bags like the one in SB 5323/HB 1205. The bill passed the Senate on January 15, so now we are looking to the House!

 

OTHER WAYS TO KEEP PLASTICS OUT OF THE OCEAN

Banning Styrofoam (expanded polystyrene foam): HB 2429/SB 6213 would ban the use and sale of Styrofoam food service products, coolers, and packing materials in Washington state. There are a few proposed exemptions, such as prepackaged food and Styrofoam coolers used to transport temperature-sensitive medicine. Styrofoam breaks down in the marine environment into smaller pieces, which degrades water quality and harms marine wildlife that often mistake pieces of polystyrene for food.

Safe disposal of sharps: HB 2360 would create an industry-funded stewardship program for the safe disposal of medical sharps such as needles, syringes and auto-injectors. Currently, the lack of a streamlined and accessible disposal system results in these items turning up on our beaches and in our parks. Through this bill, we can reduce the risk that these items pose to the health of our marine wildlife and our communities. Among other provisions, residents and diverse agencies and institutions would be able to request free sharps waste containers and prepaid mail-back materials. Producers must also provide equitable access to sharps collection services.

Recycled-content beverage containers: HB 2722 would require that plastic bottles and pouches containing soda, water and other drinks be made with more postconsumer recycled content, rising from at least 15% postconsumer recycled content in 2021 to at least 75% in 2030. This will help build a domestic market for recycled plastic and thus help make sure that more plastic gets recycled.

 

Thank you to Washington state legislators fighting ocean plastic!

We thank Sen. Das, Rep. Peterson, Rep. Duerr, Rep. Mead and Rep. Gregerson for being the lead sponsors of bills to reduce plastic pollution, and we also extend our thanks to all of the co-sponsors.

 

YOU CAN HELP!

Email your legislator or call the toll-free legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000. Ask them to support these bills to reduce plastic pollution and improve the health of our ocean!

Stay tuned for more updates as we work to move this legislation through Olympia by mid-March.

You can also join our email list to receive timely action alerts and breaking news.

 

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