Going to the grocery store? You may leave your reusable bags at home for now.
Bellingham Mayor Seth Fleetwood announced today he has temporarily suspended enforcement of the City's plastic bag ban as part of the City's response to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Fleetwood said grocers, grocery workers, and individuals reached out to his office out of concern for the health of shoppers and workers.
“Store clerks have expressed concerns about having to handle reusable bags that customers bring to the stores because of the potential risk of transmitting the coronavirus," Mayor Fleetwood said.
He said retailers also raised concerns about their ability to secure an adequate supply of the heavy weight plastic bags that meet the City's requirements during the crisis. Also, they expressed concerns about charging the mandatory pass-through to consumers for recycled paper bags at this time.
“Thank you to everyone – cashiers, shoppers and retailers – who are taking wise precautions and thinking ahead about additional ways we can work together to reduce the spread of illness," Fleetwood said.
He said many local retailers have taken steps on their own to help protect cashiers and shoppers, including, for example, installing sneeze guards and discouraging shoppers from bringing in reusable totes.
The Bellingham municipal code states in part: “The mayor may exempt a retail establishment from the requirements of this chapter for up to a one-year period, upon a request by the retail establishment showing that the conditions of this chapter would cause undue hardship." BMC 6.47.040(C)
Mayor Fleetwood agreed to suspend enforcement of the ban for one year or until the proclamation of local emergency he issued earlier this month is revoked, whichever occurs first. During this time, local retailers may distribute single-use plastic bags, waive collection of the pass-through fee for the recycled paper bags, or both.
A state-wide ban on plastic bags goes into effect on January 1, 2021, banning retailers from giving out single-use plastic carryout bags and requiring an 8-cent charge for other bags handed out. The 8-cent charge will help stores cover the cost of paper or durable, reusable bags and create an incentive for shoppers to bring their own bags.