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9611 SE 36th Street
Mercer Island, WA 98040
Phone: 206-275-7662
Fax: 206-275-7663
Contact: Ross Freeman
Email: ross.freeman@merce. . .
Hours: 8:30 am - 5:00 pm (Mon - Fri)
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Mercer Island Plastic Bag Ban

NEW! The City's reusable bags are here. Ask for one at City Hall, or look for them at summer events
--Effective April 22, 2014 (Earth Day)  

Overview – What the Ordinance Does

The Mercer Island City Council adopted an ordinance that bans single-use, plastic carryout bags at retail stores. The ordinance is modeled after similar requirements adopted in many other Washington communities (to date: Bellingham, Bainbridge Island, Edmonds, Issaquah, Mukilteo, Olympia, Port Townsend, Seattle, Shoreline, Thurston County, and Tumwater).

By limiting wasteful single-use bags, the new regulation is intended to reduce plastic litter in our cherished and vital aquatic environment that completely surrounds the island, minimize harm to fish and other marine animals, and encourage consumers to purchase more sustainable, long-lived, reusable bags. Plastic bags do not biodegrade, instead breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces that are often consumed by filter-feeders, shellfish, fish, and birds.

As a stepping stone measure, stores are still allowed to distribute standard paper grocery bags. Although paper bags take more energy to produce and transport, they are recycled at a much higher rate here, and include increasing amounts of recycled content. Ultimately, the best solution is for retailers to offer durable reusable bags and steer consumers towards them.

Unlike many other regional cities with bag regulations, the City Council elected not to impose a mandatory five cent pass-through charge on paper grocery bags. Instead, retailers may choose whether to sell paper bags to customers, or absorb the cost of complying with the ordinance.

The plastic bag ban takes effect on Earth Day: April 22, 2014.

Summary and Exemptions

  • Retailers are not permitted to provide customers with single-use plastic carryout (shopping) bags, including bags labeled as biodegradable, compostable, or similar.
  • Retailers may provide customers with any size recyclable paper or reusable carryout bag, for free or for a charge.
  • Any standard-size paper grocery bag (882cu. in. or larger) issued by retailers must contain at least 40% recycled content, and be labeled as such.
  • Thicker plastic bags are considered to be reusable, and may be provided for free or for a charge.
  • Non-compliance constitutes a Class I civil infraction and may be subject to fines for each day of violation.
  • Heavy-duty, reusable plastic bags (>2.25 mils or 0.00225 inches thick) are exempt.
  • Food banks and food assistance programs may still use plastic carryout bags of any kind.
  • These types of bags are still allowed:
    • Plastic bags used inside stores for bulk foods, or to protect meat, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables, unwrapped deli food items, bakery goods, frozen foods. Also, plastic bags used for small hardware items, prescriptions drugs and medical equipment; damp items; etc.
    • Plastic bags for take-out orders from food service establishments and grocery delis; paper bags are encouraged in these cases.
    • Newspaper, door-hanger, and dry-cleaning bags.
    • All plastic bags sold in packages intended for garbage, pet waste, and yard waste.
  • Note: Merchants with existing supplies of single use plastic carryout bags or non-compliant large paper bags will be allowed a reasonable amount of time to use them up, although they must be prepared for questions from customers.

Alternatives to Plastic Bags

  • The City of Mercer Island intends to promote reusable bags as the best alternative to single-use plastic carryout bags, and will work with retail stores to get this message out to shoppers.
  • There are a variety of cloth carryout bags on the market, and many retail stores also sell inexpensive bags made of polypropylene that can be used over and over.
  • The City is also making branded reusable shopping bags available at certain outreach events, and at City Hall, while supplies last (see photo above).
  • Some merchants, such as clothing retailers and ‘big box’ stores, in nearby cities with bag bans have chosen to make thick plastic bags available to customers.  These bags (>2.25mils thick) are sturdy enough to be reused.

Links to Other Bag Bans

Bainbridge Island
Thurston County
Portland, OR
San Francisco, CA

Contact Us

Email Ross Freeman, Sustainability Manager, or call (206) 275-7662, with additional questions.


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