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Originally published Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 6:28 PM

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Editorial: Legislature needs to address plastic shopping bags

Challenges to the city of Issaquah’s ban on plastic shopping bags is another reason for the state Legislature to revisit a statewide ban.

Seattle Times Editorial

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ENOUGH voter signatures might have been gathered for a petition to undo a plastic grocery-bag ban in the city of Issaquah. If so, it offers yet another reason to exchange the current patchwork of local bans and non-bans for a statewide solution.

King County Elections office will begin verifying whether there are 2,843 valid signatures on the petitions submitted by opponents as required under state law on Wednesday. The initiative would require the Issaquah City Council to either repeal the ordinance or allow citizens to vote on a repeal.

The City Council adopted a phased-in ban on plastic bags. Large retailers have been banned from using plastic bags since March. Small retailers have until March 2014 to fall in line with the new law. Retailers are required to collect a 5-cent fee on paper bags.

The fee rankles some but it helps offset the cost of providing paper bags and it provides an incentive for customers to bring their own bags.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a lobbying group for the plastic-bag industry, argues that shoppers reuse plastic bags for trash disposal, picking up after pets and other needs. Not enough.

Plastic bags are made from nonrenewable resources. Many do not decompose in the environment, One reason is that, of an estimated 2 billion disposable-plastic bags used annually in Washington state, fewer than 5 percent are recovered for recycling.

Harm by plastic bags to the environment, particularly to Puget Sound marine life, outweighs consumer taste and convenience.

Challenges to Issaquah’s bag ban in some ways mirror events in Seattle where a City Council-passed 20-cent bag fee was rebuffed by voters in 2009. Two years later, the Seattle City Council approved a plastic-bag ban and a more reasonable 5-cent paper-bag fee.

The state Legislature should recycle its efforts to ban plastic shopping bags statewide as well as promote the use of reusable bags and charge 5 cents for paper bags.

While well-intentioned, a patchwork of bag bans leaves local governments vulnerable to the kind of challenge faced by Issaquah.

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