A sign informs customers that anyone using a reusable bag must bag their own groceries on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 at Wray's Food and Drug in Yakima, Wash.

A lengthy delay in implementing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags would be welcome on numerous fronts, especially among grocery stores, restaurants and other retail outlets that make wide use of a product that is useful, convenient and inexpensive.

But the ban is coming — perhaps in July, perhaps in 2022. Be prepared for a different shopping experience, and for the need to find something else with which to line your bathroom garbage can.

We can thank the pandemic for not having to worry for now about making sure our plastic or cloth reusable bags are in the SUV before we make a dash to our favorite grocery store.

Environmental concerns were the focal point of Senate Bill 5323, which was signed into law last March. Even though their manufacturing has a relatively small environmental impact, single-use bags take centuries to decompose and are an enormous litter problem on land and at sea. Knowing this, the Legislature formed a plan to begin the ban on New Year’s Day 2021. Outlets that offered single-use bags could deplete their inventory over the course of 2021, but that was it. Customers would then have the choice of using their own bags or paying for large paper bags; thicker, reusable plastic bags; or compostable “green” bags.

But while some retailers already offer the thicker plastic bags to some degree, following the new law on a widespread basis would be nearly impossible for most retailers right now. Because of COVID-19 concerns, many outlets don’t allow the use of reusable bags. In addition, reusable bags, thicker plastic bags and paper bags are hard to come by as many of their manufacturers focus on personal protective equipment. There’s also been more demand for plastic bags as restaurants have switched to carry-out.

Recognizing these hardships, Gov. Jay Inslee last month issued a proclamation to reset the date to Jan. 31. There’s legislation in Olympia that would push it to July 1. Depending on the pandemic and manufacturing capacity, an extension to January 2022 is possible.

For retailers, it was welcome relief, as many related in a recent Herald-Republic report. And for consumers in the Yakima Valley and across the state, it gives them at least a few more months to prepare.

For those facing conversion to reusable bags, they now have more time to begin their bag collection and develop routines for where and how to clean and store them — in addition to not forgetting them when they go shopping.

Like the evolution of COVID-19 masks over the past few months, reusable shopping bags can also be fashion statements. For the more conservative shopper, there’s the simple bag with the logo of their favorite store. But there’s a seemingly endless world of colorful and original shopping-bag art out there as well — kittens and puppies, visions of colorful produce, geometric patterns, holiday themes and the like.

If this is the path you choose, let the Herald-Republic editorial board offer some sound guidance.

  • Is it possible to have too many reusable shopping bags? Answer: No. They have many other household uses.
  • How many bags should I take into the store with me? Answer: Two more than you think you will need.
  • Should the shopping bags I select for trips to the grocery store clash? Answer: Absolutely.
  • Can I use shopping bags with the Store X logo when I shop at Store Y? Answer: Highly recommended — especially if you have a Trader Joe’s reusable bag and go shopping in Yakima.

Paper bags — remember when they were the only option at grocery stores? — have their advantages as well. They are fairly sturdy, biodegradable, reusable and recyclable. They aren’t waterproof, so buyer beware. They are a good option, however, if you have a playful cat; just set the empty paper bag on the floor and the cat will do the rest.

One way or another, the ban on single-use plastic bags will arrive. We will adapt, and we will survive. And for individual shoppers, it won’t hurt to begin the process sooner rather than later.

Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Greg Halling, Joanna Markell and Bruce Drysdale.