• City of Tacoma QA
  • City of Tacoma Data


Why Restrict Disposable Checkout Bags?

An estimated two billion disposable plastic checkout bags are used in Washington State each year and most end up in the landfill or as litter, according to a study by the Environment Washington Research & Policy Center.


By their nature, plastic bags do not biodegrade, but rather break down into smaller and smaller pieces to become micro-plastics (Environment Washington Research & Policy Center) and can cause harm to marine wildlife. When recycled improperly, plastic bags jam equipment; increasing downtime, maintenance and labor costs.


The Washington State Department of Ecology estimates that it costs $700-$1,000 per ton for recycling centers to remove plastic films from other recyclables. Watch the video below to see an example of this in action. To properly recycle plastic bags in Tacoma, bundle the bags into a single plastic bag and tie it closed at the top and put it in the recycle bin.  



While paper bags are recycled at a significantly higher rate than disposable plastic bags, a paper bag produces significantly more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over its lifetime. Manufacturing paper bags results in greater atmospheric acidification, water consumption, and ozone production than plastic bags (Green Cities California). Recycling the bags at the end of their life also takes resources. With shopping bags, the best bag to use is the bag you reuse – dozens, if not hundreds of times!


A Brief Bag History

The original “t-shirt” plastic bag was designed in Sweden in 1965 and in the late 1970s it began appearing in American grocery stores. They were markedly less expensive than paper bags for the grocers to purchase. In 1982, Safeway and Kroeger switched from paper to disposable plastic shopping bags, and by the early 2000s, they had secured more than 80% of the grocery and convenience store market in the US. Regulations on the use of plastic bags began as early as the 1990s.


Other communities' approaches to disposable checkout bags

Several nations, from Ireland to South Africa, and more than 100 local communities, including Laredo, TX, Sacramento, CA, Washington, D.C., and 14 communities in Washington State, have taken steps to reduce their use of disposable shopping bags. The European Union voted in April 2016 to reduce the use of plastic bags. These cities, counties and countries are making the switch to more sustainable checkout bag options by using price signals and bans that encourage shoppers to choose reusable bags more often. The results generally show that plastic bag waste and litter decrease, and reusable shopping bag use increases.