A new report from the environmental advocates at Environment Washington concludes that a main plastic- and chemical-industry claim about plastic bags---that they shouldn't be banned, because people can just recycle them---flies in the face of what most plastic-bag users actually do. Nationwide, fewer than 5 percent of nonbiodegradable plastic bags are recycled; the rest are thrown away, and many end up in streams, rivers, and eventually the ocean, where they break up into "microplastics" that absorb toxic chemicals and are easily ingested by fish and other marine wildlife.

Additionally, the report concludes, plastic bags get caught in the machinery at recycling facilities, and aren't even accepted at the vast majority of state recycling facilities.

More findings from the study:

• Washington State residents use more than two billion plastic bags a year. However, nationwide, just 4.3 percent of plastic bags are recycled. In 2010, 10,000 more tons of plastic bags ended up in landfills than in 2009.

• A majority of the state's recycling facilities don't even accept plastic bags, and 83 percent of those facilities complain that they have to spend between 20 and 30 percent of their labor time pulling plastic bags out of their systems and throwing them away.

• Voluntary recycling programs --- such as a requirement in California that grocery stores provide plastic recycling bins outside their front doors---haven't worked, increasing bag recycling only a couple of percentage points.

• We export most of the plastic bags set aside for "recycling" to China, where the recycling process creates toxic fumes, harms worker health, and pollutes groundwater.

Additionally, as I've noted before, plastic bag "recycling" really consists of turning plastic bags into consumer products of lower quality that will eventually---perhaps after several cycles---go into a landfill.

State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon proposed legislation this year that would have banned single-use plastic grocery bags statewide, along the lines of the existing plastic bag ban in Seattle. That legislation failed to make it out of committee.