City Council delays decision on Issaquah plastic bag ban

April 2, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 9:03 p.m. April 2, 2012

The decision to outlaw plastic bags at Issaquah businesses is on hold, City Council members decided Monday after a contentious discussion and appeals from environmentalists concerned about Puget Sound pollution and plastics manufacturers anxious about lost livelihoods.

The proposed plastic bag ban at local retailers is meant to limit garbage headed for the King County landfill and reduce marine pollution.

The measure stalled after speakers questioned the proposal’s scope and timing. The council opted in a 6-1 decision to postpone further discussions on the plastic bag ban to a still-unscheduled meeting.

The plastic bag ban proponent, Issaquah Highlands entrepreneur and Councilman Mark Mullet, said the legislation offers Issaquah a chance to reduce the estimated 10 million plastic bags the city sends to the King County landfill each year.

“I respect the fact that my fellow council members want to have more time,” Mullet said.

The council also alluded to the legislation opening another debate between the business and environmental camps in Issaquah.

“This need not be a civil war,” Councilman Joshua Schaer said.

(Schaer did not support the motion to send the legislation to another council meeting for discussion, citing the council committee structure as the proper channel for such a decision.)

Supporters said plastic bags pose problems at recycling facilities at use up space at the local landfill needed for nonrecyclable items. Supporters also cited marine pollution in Puget Sound and around the globe as reasons for the plastic bag ban.

Opponents suggested the problem is not the bags, but the subsequent litter. Opponents said a change in behavior to encourage people to recycle or reuse plastic bags is a more important need.

The lineup before the council included representatives from Environment Washington, a statewide advocacy group, and plastic bag manufacturers.

Despite the rift between the groups in Issaquah, the legislation attracted support from disparate groups in the region.

Holly Chisa, Washington lobbyist for the Northwest Grocery Association, supported the measure. Heather Trim, policy director for People for Puget Sound, asked members to support the plastic bag ban, too.

Councilman Paul Winterstein said the measure requires additional study before the council acts on the legislation.

Most merchants in the city did not hear about the legislation before the meeting, Councilwoman Eileen Barber said before the council decision. Barber spent the days before the discussion meetings employees and owners at local businesses.

“It bothers me that in this last week that we were still turning over stones,” Councilwoman Stacy Goodman said before the meeting.

Councilman Fred Butler lauded the speakers at the meeting, but said the council needs to hear from more community members before a decision is reached.

The discussion attracted a rare sight at Issaquah council meetings — television cameras from the Seattle affiliates.

Issaquah could yet join other cities in the Puget Sound region to outlaw plastic bags. The local proposal mimics the ordinance in Seattle and is similar to legislation in Bellingham, Edmonds and Mukilteo.

In addition to limiting most plastic bags, the legislation requires retail stores to collect 5 cents for each paper bag provided to customers. The fee is meant to help retailers offset the cost.

The proposed ordinance contains exemptions for bakery items, bulk foods, meat, produce, dry cleaning, newspapers, small hardware items and takeout foods.

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7 Responses to “City Council delays decision on Issaquah plastic bag ban”

  1. Mark Matthews on April 3rd, 2012 8:41 am

    Like many people, I reuse these plastic bags many times. They are my garbage can liners, they keep my wet clothes when I go to the swimming pool or the beach. They carry my papers and other items to my scout meetings. I could keep going on with the number of ways I reuse these bags. I think the city has more important budget and fiscal matters to concern itself with than what I carry my groceries in. I do use cloth bags on most occasions, but I don’t always carry them with me in my daily errands running around town.

  2. Michael Johnson on April 3rd, 2012 10:43 am

    The Grocery Association testified in favor of the ban as they are in line to collect a multi-million dollar governement mandated profit center if the ban passes. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, PCC and other psedo-environmental/organic groceries do not use plastic bags. And they double and triple paper bag everthing that goes out of the store. The cost of those bags have already been included in the products they sell. The additonal nickel pass fee, which will do nothing to help small business, will generate millions in additonal profits for them. It’s a scam. And it does absolutely nothing to enhance sustainability or reduce plastic bag usage. In fact, it encourages the need for more natual resources (trees, water, energy) to compensate the guaranteed spike in paper production. How does that help the local ecology again? Oh, and don’t forget, since it’s based on Seattle’s ban, every paper bag that goes through the drive-thu window at your local Issaquah fast food restaurant can also collect the $.05 tax. And where do those bags end up? Either striaght to the landfill after no reusability, or worst case scenario, the parking lot. Plastic bag bans are a disaster for the environment, and in many cases will cripple the small business and non-profit organizations in the community.

  3. Sally on April 3rd, 2012 10:45 am

    The Green City’s (not) usual cop- out!!

  4. Smoley on April 4th, 2012 12:48 pm

    How did this issue even get out of the committee if there was this much left to discuss? Councilman Schaer and committee chair Mullet voted to push it up to Council before hearing from all interested parties? What’s up with that??

    I’d also like to know where Mullet’s claim that “10 million plastic bags are sent to the landfill from Issaquah” number comes from.

    Each week I’m tossing out a number of 35-gal. plastic garbage bags full of non-recyclables. Do these also count as “plastic bags headed to the landfill” because everyone uses plastic trash bags and this ordinance doesn’t have anything to do with changing that at all. The amount of plastic in a single 35-gal trash bag is far more than what is in the smaller, thinner single-use bags that are being banned.

    What we would need to know is how many single-use plastic shopping bags, that are not from fast food stores, or used for produce, or not recycled, end up in the landfill. Until we get that number, this is nothing but another “feel good” ordinance that makes shopping here more difficult and drives business to surrounding communities.

  5. Ken Holmes on April 5th, 2012 1:56 pm

    I was at that meeting, and speaking on behalf of the environment AND plastic bags. The reason Mullet thought this was ready for a vote was because the ONLY people he had talked to were Environment Washington – who are on an unholy crusade across the state to ban bags; NW Grocers Association – who’s members stand to make big bucks from sales of packaged bags, paper bags, and reusable bags; and People for Puget Sound – who seem to think that ALL plastic litter is plastic retail carryout bags. The council certainly didn’t reach out to the plastics industry. They probably didn’t anticipate that several people would actually come to the meeting and oppose the ban with – gasp – actual facts.

    Bans are bad for the environment and bad for the economy.

  6. Nate on April 8th, 2012 7:13 pm

    The Bag ban is a bad idea for several reasons

    1) Health: The reusable bags are a breeding ground for E. Coli and other bacteria. Would you put packaged meat on a plate for 15 minutes (time it takes to get home) and then in the trunk of your car for a week and then eat fruit off the plate without washing it first? What makes you think the lead-based bag is any safer?

    2) Added cost (5 cents per bag) seems like a tax: We don’t have a statewide ban on the plastic bags yet, and I hope we never do. However, until that happens, people can choose to do their shopping in Sammamish or Bellevue. There is a new Wal-Mart grocery store coming soon, their prices are cheaper and they won’t have to charge you five cents per bag. Remember, a lot of people who live in Issaquah don’t WORK in Issaquah. Bellevue is on the way home for many. This adds up to lost business and tax revenue for Issaquah.

    In a recent Gallup poll the economy ranked as most important. The environment ranked 7th. We all want a cleaner environment, but do we want to eliminate plastic bag industry jobs, while “taxing” the remainder of the population to do it. If this passes, I will have to buy a different size plastic bags for small trash cans and I will probably use cheap kitchen size bags for the same purpose my re-used grocery bags serve now. Will that help the environment?

    Of course the grocery association supports this! The paper bags cost A LOT less than 5 cents to make, and they are giving away the plastic bags. Instead of losing money on bags, they will profit. Fred Meyer used super-green Portland as a test market and found that people just used paper bags instead. Many people won’t switch to re-usable bags. Do we think any of the “savings” will be passed on the the customer?

    If this gets passed, vote with your pocketbook! Let em’ suffer the loss of tax revenue to Bellevue.

  7. Glen on June 3rd, 2012 4:29 pm

    A new device makes it so easy to reuse these bags they will disappear from the environment. It turns them into a wastebasket, storage/recycling bin, clothes bin, etc.

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