Plastic Bag Reduction Policy Basics
- Effective March 1, 2016
- Plastic bags cannot be provided at point of sale
- Large paper bags (1/8 barrel / 882 cu in or larger) require a minimum five-cent fee*
- The five-cent fee for paper bags is taxable
- The number of bags sold must be listed on receipts
- Businesses keep the five-cent fee
- Small paper bags may be provided for free
- Restaurants and to-go food vendors may continue to provide plastic bags for takeout
- In-store plastic bags like produce bags, bulk item bags, and bags for meat are exempt
- Low-income customers who present EBT cards are exempt from the five-cent fee
* The requirement to charge for paper bags has been suspended for one year for some businesses, effective May 1, 2016 - May 1, 2017.
Watch a PSA describing the effect of the plastic bag policy.
Complete Plastic Bag Policy FAQs for Businesses
This guide is intended to help businesses understand and comply with Kirkland's plastic bag reduction policy. Jump to questions regarding:
Implementation of the Ordinance
What stores are affected by the ordinance?
Most retail establishments are subject to the new requirements, including grocery stores, department stores, hardware stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, convenience stores and other retail stores or vendors. There is no exemption for small retailers. Restaurants, delis, food trucks, and other vendors selling food to-go may continue to provide plastic bags for takeout food.
When did the ordinance take effect?
March 1, 2016. The effective date for food rescue organizations such as Hopelink and Food Lifeline is March 1, 2017.
Plastic Bag Restrictions and Exemptions
What bags are restricted by the ordinance?
Plastic bags considered disposable and not reusable are prohibited (see exemptions). This includes all disposable plastic bags provided at check out or point of sale.
What exemptions are allowed?
Plastic bags are allowed for the following uses:
- Takeout food
- Meat, produce, and bakery bags
- Bags for items sold in bulk, such as bulk food and bulk hardware items
- Newspaper, dry cleaning, pet waste, and garbage bags
- Items where dampness may be an issue
Can retailers provide plastic bags for meat, produce, bulk foods and other items?
Yes, plastic bags that are used inside stores for bulk foods and other items, for meats and produce, unwrapped bakery goods, flowers and other similar items will still be allowed. Only disposable bags used at retail checkout are prohibited.
Why are to-go food vendors allowed to use plastic bags?
Restaurants and grocers’ deli counters are allowed to use plastic bags to prevent problems from spillage of hot items, and reduce potential issues from steam and dampness. However, the City encourages restaurants to use paper bags whenever possible. Restaurants may not provide plastic bags for items other than prepared foods (e.g. cookbooks, t-shirts, bottled salad dressing).
Are dry cleaning bags exempt?
Yes, they are exempt along with newspaper bags, door-hanger bags and bags sold in packages containing multiple bags for uses such as garbage or pet waste.
Why are thicker (2.25 mil) plastic bags restricted, when they are allowed in some other cities with bag policies?
While other cities have defined thick (2.25 mil and thicker) bags as reusable, the Kirkland City Council determined that the 2.25 mil bags are inherently disposable and do not fulfill the spirit of the ordinance, which is to reduce plastic waste in our community by eliminating unnecessary single-use plastic bags.
Paper Bag Charges
Which paper bags do I have to charge my customers for?
Stores and vendors (including farmers’ markets) are only required to charge a minimum five-cent fee for each large paper bag such as typical grocery store carryout bag – technically a bag larger than 882 cubic inches, known as one-eighth barrel in the grocery trade. As a rule of thumb, if a bag has a flat bottom greater than 6 inches by 10 inches, there will be a charge for it. Stores are not required to charge for smaller paper bags but they may at their discretion. Retailers are allowed to charge more than five cents per large paper bag.
I heard that City Council suspended the bag fee requirement for some businesses. Does my business need to charge?
Only grocery stores, convenience stores, supercenters and pharmacies are required to charge for paper bags between May 1, 2016 and May 1, 2017. Other businesses are not required to charge for bags, but may do so at their discretion. Specifically, only businesses that fall under the following NAICS codes are required to charge for bags during that time period:
- 445110 – Supermarkets and Other Grocery (Except Convenience) Stores
- 445120 – Convenience Stores
- 446110 – Pharmacies and Drug Stores
- 447110 – Gasoline Stations
- 447190 – Other Gasoline Stations
- 452910 – Warehouse Clubs and Supercenters
See a full list of businesses required to charge (pdf), as of April 2016.
Display a placard at your register explaining the five cent charge - English and Spanish versions (pdf).
Can retailers just “eat the cost” of large paper bags and not charge their customers?
No. The minimum five-cent charge must be collected. It is meant to be a reminder to customers to shop with reusable bags, and for that reason the total cost of recyclable paper bags sold must be shown on the customer’s sales slip. The City ordinance requires the charge for all large bags at all stores to ensure a level playing field level among retailers.
Our store currently offers a discount to customers that bring in their own bags. Can we continue to do that?
Yes. Retail stores that offer discounts for reusable bag use may continue to do so if they choose.
Are there exemptions for the charge for low-income customers?
Yes, many low-income customers are exempt from the charge. Specifically, no retail store at any time may charge the 5-cent pass-through fee for large recyclable paper bags to customers having vouchers or electronic benefits cards issued under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) support programs, or the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly "Food Stamps," also known as Basic Food), or the Washington State Food Assistance Program (FAP).
What standards must paper bags meet?
The only requirement is that larger paper bags – the ones for which a five-cent charge is required – state that they contain a minimum 40% post-consumer recycled content and must be labeled as such on the outside of the bag. There is no post-consumer recycled content requirement for smaller bags, but the City encourages retailers to use recycled-content paper bags.
Is this transaction taxable?
Yes. The Washington State Department of Revenue has confirmed that the five-cent pass-through charge is subject to sales tax; retail stores are selling the bags.
Transition Assistance and Enforcement
How did the City inform retailers about the ordinance?
Affected retailers received an informational packet (pdf) in June 2015 and were visited by City staff. Retailers received a reminder postcard in early 2016, and selected retailers were visited a second time by City staff.
Help - my business wasn't notified! How do I know if my business is affected?
The ordinance applies only to point-of-sale bags at retail establishments. If your business is a restaurant, food truck, deli, bakery, or similar, you may continue to provide plastic bags for takeout food. Service-based businesses such as dentist's or doctor's offices are not affected by the policy because retail sales are not their primary function. We do encourage all businesses, even those exempted from the policy, to choose paper instead of plastic where possible. If you still aren’t sure, feel free to contact the City of Kirkland at 425-587-3812 for more information specific to your business.
Does the City offer any promotional assistance?
Retailers can download media explaining to customers what is required, indicating that the bag policy is a City regulation and not a policy of the individual retailer. The City also urges retailers to hang signs in their parking lots and stores that remind customers to bring their own bags. In addition, the City of Kirkland has promoted the policy through print and broadcast media, emphasizing the “bring your bag” message.
Two PSAs about the plastic bag policy were released in October 2015. Three additional videos were released in November 2015 and one of the videos aired on cable TV in February 2016.
Educational materials are available for retail businesses to display at their store:
City staff can also assist businesses with graphics.
How will this ordinance be enforced?
The City of Kirkland will rely on reports from consumers and business owners to identify businesses that are not complying with the ordinance, and will take an educational approach to enforcement. Businesses that may be out of compliance with the policy can be reported to the City via our feedback form. If a complaint is received, City staff will visit the retailer to talk about the law and explain what’s needed to comply. Retailers will have assistance to adapt to the policy. If a retailer is found to be out of compliance after a verbal warning, the City may initiate a code enforcement action per Kirkland Municipal Code 1.12.
How can I provide feedback or ask questions about the plastic bag reduction policy?
You can submit feedback or questions online using our feedback form. Additionally, you can contact City staff directly at the Recycling Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 587-3812.