Plastic Bag Ban

Plastic Bag Ban Begins January 1, 2020
Posted on 08/21/2019
Plastic bag in ocean.

The Burien City Council unanimously passed an ordinance on January 7, 2019 to ban carryout plastic bags in restaurants and retail establishments. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2020, giving Burien businesses time to use their current stock of plastic bags.

Council is considering a second ordinance that would ban non-compostable food service products such as plastic straws, polystyrene containers, and food service utensils.

Specifically, the plastic bag ban ordinance:

  • Bans plastic bags from being provided at point of sale.
  • Requires business owners collect a minimum 10-cent charge for paper bags.
  • Allows businesses to keep the 10-cent charge.
  • Exempts damp or contaminated items, such as roasted chicken bags.
  • Exempts in-store plastic bags like produce bags, bulk item bags, and bags for meat.
  • Provides encouragement to food banks, who will be exempt from the ban, to transition away from plastic bags.

A retailer may not collect the 10-cent charge from people presenting a voucher or electronic benefits card (EBT) issued under certain assistance programs, including Women Infants and Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Basic Food), and the Washington State Food Assistance Program.

The law affects all retail businesses within the city of Burien, including grocery stores, convenience stores, fast food, and temporary retailers and vendors such as at farmers markets and festivals. The City is providing support for restaurants and retailers affected by the ban.

Resources for businesses

The City of Burien can provide design files in multiple sizes of the Point of Sale sign (English, Spanish, and Vietnamese).

Resources in English

Resources in Spanish

Resources in Vietnamese 

More information

Frequently Asked Questions

How are single-use plastics harmful to wildlife?

Physical impacts. Plastic bags are neutrally buoyant. Because they float in the water column, they can be mistaken for jellyfish or other food by wildlife. Bags have been found in the stomachs of turtles, whales, and other animals, leading to deaths by starvation when their digestive system is blocked. Plastic has been found in the stomachs of more than 600 species.

Microplastics. Because plastic bags are thin, they also shred into smaller pieces over time due to wear and tear in surf zones. These small pieces—called microplastics—are eaten by fish and birds because they look like plankton.

Toxic contamination. Plastic is “oilier” than ocean water and therefore acts like a sponge for persistent toxic chemicals such as PCBs. It is believed that the bits of plastic in the aquatic environment are a pathway for toxic chemicals into fish and other wildlife that ingest them, but this has not been extensively studied yet.

How do single-use plastics affect stormwater?

Clogged storm drains. Plastic bags cause litter that can clog storm drains, which can cause flooding.

What are the effects of single-use plastics on waste management?

Clogged recycling machines. Our recyclables go to recycling centers where they are sorted and separated into different materials so that they can be bailed and sent on for further processing. A major problem is that plastic bags tend to clog the rollers on the machines. The City of Portland has documented that ¼ of their workers’ time is spent removing plastic bags from the line that have caused clogs and thus work shutdowns.

Cause contamination in our recyclable bails. Plastic bags can cause contamination in the recycling facilities. Plastic bags in our recycling facilities get caught in the sorting machinery and contaminate our mixed paper bales because they get stuck flat between the paper. The Washington Department of Ecology estimates that plastic bags cost recyclers $700 to $1000 per ton of recycled material.

Contaminate our commercial composting products. In many jurisdictions, residential and business yard clippings and food waste are sent to local commercial composting facilities that use high temperatures to break down the organic matter in just a few months to produce a high-quality compost product. Unfortunately, a large number of plastic bags get dumped into the bins along with the organic material. This leads to a significant amount of “contamination” of the compost with pieces of plastic bag. The facilities try to remove some of the plastic but are unable to remove the majority of it. Plastic bags that are green or brown tinted or claim to be bio-based or biodegradable, but are not actually compostable, are causing consumer confusion. That is why the bag ordinance includes a requirement that only truly compostable bags be green or brown tinted.

Aren’t paper bags worse for the environment?

Paper bags are recyclable, compostable, and decompose readily in the environment, but they are not a perfect alternative.

Transport costs. Paper bags are heavier than plastic bags and therefore require more fuel to transport from the point of production to the retailer.

Recyclable. A recycled paper bag can become a paper bag again. Even if recycled, plastic bags will degrade into a lower quality plastic to be used in a composite material like deck material instead of becoming a plastic bag again. Paper grocery bags are required to be made of at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content and that paper bags are 100 percent recyclable and compostable.

Renewable source. Paper bags are made from trees, a renewable resource, whereas plastic bags are made from nonrenewable fossil fuels.

Why bring your own bag?

Thin plastic bags can cause all kinds of problems for our communities and wildlife. Plastic bags are lightweight, easily flying out of trash cans and landfills in the wind and becoming litter that ends up along our roads and creeks. They then wash into stormwater and out to lakes, Puget Sound, and the ocean. They break up into smaller bits but don’t readily decompose.

The best way to eliminate unnecessary waste is to bring your own reusable bag to the store. And they are easier to carry when full of groceries!