Plastic Bag Reduction Policy Basics
- Took effect March 1, 2016
- Plastic bags not allowed at checkout in Kirkland
- Large paper bags require a five-cent fee at grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores, gas stations, and warehouse clubs
- Businesses keep the five-cent fee on paper bags
- Restaurants and delis may continue to provide plastic bags for takeout food
- In-store plastic bags like produce bags, bulk item bags, and bags for meat are exempt
- Low-income customers presenting EBT cards are exempt from the five-cent fee
Prefer video? Watch this overview of the plastic bag policy.
Complete Plastic Bag Policy FAQs for Residents
Use the links below to jump to sections of the FAQ guide for Kirkland residents and shoppers:
How does this ordinance affect shoppers?
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.
Are all plastic bags restricted?
Plastic bags will not be available at checkout, with some exemptions. Plastic bags are allowed for:
- 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, such as flowers
What bags are allowed at checkout?
Retailers may provide large paper bags for a minimum five-cent fee per bag. The fee applies to bags equivalent in size to a large grocery bag. The specific bag and its features are up to the retailer's discretion. Retailers may charge for smaller paper bags but are not required to.
What happens with the five-cent fee on paper bags?
Retailers keep the five-cent fee to cover their expense for buying the paper bags.
Why do some businesses charge me five cents for bags, and some don't?
Only grocery stores, convenience stores, supercenters and pharmacies have to charge five cents for large paper bags. All other retailers are not required to charge the bag fee, but may choose to do so at their discretion.
Which retailers are affected?
Most retail establishments are subject to the new requirements, including grocery stores, department stores, hardware stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, farmers market vendors, and other retail stores or vendors. The ordinance applies to both large and small retail businesses. Restaurants, delis and food trucks may continue to provide plastic bags for takeout food.
Can retailers provide plastic bags for meat, produce, bulk foods and other items?
Yes. Bags used by customers inside stores to package bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, candy or small hardware items are still allowed, as are bags to wrap frozen foods, ice cream, meat or fish, flowers and other items where dampness is a problem. Newspaper and dry-cleaning bags are allowed as well.
Does the policy prohibit retailers from selling plastic bags such as garbage bags and pet waste bags?
No. The requirements only apply to bags provided to customers at check out to carry away purchased items. Bags sold in packages containing multiple bags are not prohibited.
What counts as a reusable bag that stores are allowed to provide?
Reusable bags that retailers would be allowed to provide are defined as being machine-washable, with a minimum lifetime of 125 uses.
My favorite store gives me a discount when I bring my reusable bag. Can they still do that?
Yes. Retailers have discretion to continue to provide a discount for reusable bag use, if they choose.
Are there exemptions for the paper bag 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 five-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).
Why the City of Kirkland Restricted Plastic Bags
Why did the City restrict disposable plastic bags?
The Kirkland City Council decided to restrict use of plastic bags to protect our environment. Lightweight plastic bags don’t biodegrade – instead they break down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic that are estimated to take 500 to 1,000 years to decompose. The tiny pieces of plastic pollute our soils and oceans. When plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces, those microscopic particles may also be consumed by small animals in the oceans and enter the food chain. Because of plastic’s persistence in the environment, the City believes the use of disposable plastic products should be minimized.
How did the City decide to restrict plastic bags?
The City Council received information at multiple meetings between 2013 and 2015 before voting to adopt the new plastic bag reduction policy ordinance on February 17, 2015. Read the Plastic Bag Report (PDF, 4mb), which evaluated options for plastic bag policies based on their sustainability.
Why not just recycle disposable plastic bags?
After years in use, even in cities like Seattle that have tried to recycle disposable plastic bags, recycling hasn’t caught on. Less than 15 percent of disposable plastic bags are recycled in Seattle, which is reputed to have the highest plastic bag recycling rate in the country.
Aren’t the non-woven polypropylene bags sold as reusable bags by many retailers as much of a problem as the lightweight throwaway bags they’re replacing?
No. Once these bags have been reused a couple dozen times their impact is less than that of the many more lightweight plastic bags they’ve replaced. They can hold two to three times as much as typical throwaway plastic bags, meaning that fewer can be used to hold the same amount of goods. The lightweight bags often need to be doubled for strength - that’s not a problem for the reusable bags.
Why not use biodegradable or compostable bags?
Biodegradable and compostable bags are not meant to be shopping bags. Biodegradable bags are still considered disposable bags, and can take up to three years to decompose. Compostable bags are specifically designed as liners for kitchen food waste containers and as liners for food and yard waste carts. Also, many of the biodegradable bags provided by retailers are not approved by Cedar Grove Composting – they do not completely biodegrade and become contaminants in finished compost.
Why is there a fee on paper bags?
Though paper bags do not cause the same pollution issues since they are organic and can decompose, reducing waste means cutting down on the use of paper bags, too. That’s why the City is incentivizing consumers to switch to reusable bags through a five-cent charge on all full-size paper bags.
Making the Transition to Reusable Bags Easy
Where can I get reusable shopping bags?
Most grocery and drug stores already sell reusable bags for about a dollar or less.
I use plastic bags to pick up pet waste. How should I clean up after my dog?
If you currently use plastic shopping bags to clean up after your pet, you may need to transition to using plastic bags from products, such as bread bags, newspaper bags, and produce bags. You will probably continue to receive some plastic shopping bags from takeout food and other exempted uses, as well as from shopping in other cities where plastic bags are not restricted. Alternatively, pet waste bags are available for purchase at local stores.
What should I do with paper bags I get from stores?
Reuse or recycle paper bags when you get them or donate clean ones to your neighborhood food bank. Using paper bags to store and carry food scraps to your food and yard waste cart is an easy way to manage your food waste.
What should I do with plastic bags I receive from exempted uses or shopping outside the City?
Collect your plastic bags and bring them to drop-off points at grocery stores for recycling. Plastic bread bags or produce bags can be saved and used again for trash or dog waste cleanup. Plastic bags are also accepted for recycling at our monthly StyroFest events (pdf).
How should I choose a reusable bag?
The best bag is the one you’ll use, so pick a bag that is comfortable to carry. Test the strap or handle length for fitting over your shoulder or carrying in your hands. Choose a bag with enough capacity to carry a good amount, but not so much that the bag will be too heavy.
Consider getting bags of different sizes and varieties to suit your shopping needs:
- Like the shape of paper bags? Get a reusable bag with a fold-out bottom that will stand up. Prefer the shape of plastic bags? Try a small tote with handles such as a ChicoBag.
- Buy lots of perishable or frozen foods? Get an insulated bag.
- String bags work well for produce.
- Compartmented bags are available for carrying wine bottles.
- If you often purchase bulky household items, make sure you have an oversized bag that will fit large items.
Pay attention to how many paper bags you get from the store for a typical shopping trip, and get that many reusable bags (or a few extra if you have two cars).
How will I remember to use my reusable bags?
Keep several reusable bags in the back seat of your car for trips to the store. Store multiple bags inside each other so you can grab the bundle easily. Small bags can be carried in your backpack, shoulder bag or purse. Let the five-cent charge for paper bags be a reminder to shop with your reusable bags and you’ll save money in the long run.
How should I keep my reusable bags clean?
Consider periodically washing your reusable bags for grocery shopping. Insulated bags can be wiped with a disinfecting cloth. Consider designating specific bags for carrying meat, seafood, produce, and cleaning products to avoid contamination. Likewise, consider having some reusable bags for non-food purchases like books and household items that won’t need to be washed as often. After washing, be sure your bags are dry before you put them away.
What has the City done to help businesses comply with the policy?
Informational packets (pdf, 260kb) were mailed to affected retailers in June 2015 and all affected businesses were visited by staff during summer 2015. Educational materials (zip) are available for retailers to download. Affected retailers received a reminder postcard in February 2016, and staff visited selected retailers.
How can I provide feedback about the ordinance?
Please submit feedback to the City using our online form.
I have questions about the ordinance - who can I ask?
You can contact the Recycling Hotline at email@example.com or (425) 587-3812 to ask questions of City staff.
I only just found out about the restrictions - how did the City inform the public?
Between February 2015 and March 2016, City staff completed a comprehensive public outreach and education plan, including print and online advertisements, articles in multiple City publications, PSA videos
, phone calls and visits to affected retailers, event tabling, and posters at public locations, among other outreach.