Organization seeking statewide ban on plastic bags

SEATTLE -- New recycling statistics are adding fuel to the fight to ban plastic bags throughout the state.

A group called Environmental Washington says 7 out of 10 recyclers in the state now say they would like to get plastic bags entirely out of their systems.

And there's good reason for that.

At recycling plants, a series of conveyor belts and mechanical sorters do 80 to 90 percent of of the work, while people pick and sort what the machines can't.

Plastic bags don't belong on the belts, but about a million bags make it through each day.

"How are you going to expect 20 people to pull out a million bags that's going by on a conveyer belt? It's physically impossible," said recycling worker James Dawson.

The bags the pickers miss often clog the system, and at least once a day workers have to shut down the line to cut out all the plastic.

Employees wearing safety harnesses with special sleeves and gloves climb in and start cutting.

They say the work stoppage costs them 10-15 hours of productivity each week, and Environment Washington says we're losing Puget Sound wildlife to plastic bags littered across the region.

"We need to get rid of plastic bags," said Environmental Washington's Robb Krehbiel.

When scientists did a necropsy on a gray whale found dead in 2010, they found 20 plastic bags in its belly.

"We see that these bags that we think are just a quick convenience actually have huge environmental impacts to our wildlife and that's why we need to get rid of them," Krehbiel said.

Krehbiel said the goal is to get a statewide ban on plastic bags, but until that's achieved, the organization will tackle the problem one city at a time.

Seattle already passed a ban on the bags, and a number of other local cities are considering it.