City Council delays decision on plastic bag ban
April 10, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
The decision to outlaw plastic bags at Issaquah businesses is on hold, City Council members decided April 2 after listening to 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 scope, timing and lack of input from the businesses affected by such a change. The council opted in a 6-1 decision to postpone further discussions on the plastic bag ban to a still-unscheduled meeting in May.
“It bothers me that in this last week that we were still turning over stones,” Councilwoman Stacy Goodman said before the 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.
Issaquah Chamber of Commerce remains neutral
Issaquah Chamber of Commerce leaders decided to remain neutral as the City Council considers legislation to outlaw plastic bags, but entrepreneurs raised concerns about possible impacts on local businesses due to such a ban.
In a letter to council members, chamber CEO Matthew Bott outlined the organization’s position and asked leaders to consider unintended effects.
The chamber received responses from more than 70 survey participants; a little more than half opposed the proposed legislation.
The proposed 5-cent fee for paper bags also raised concerns about a plastic bag ban as a deterrent for consumers.
“The chamber remains hopeful that the increased cost of shopping in Issaquah due to this ordinance, however slight, will not cause shifts in consumer behavior in driving business to neighboring communities,” the letter continues.
“I respect the fact that my fellow council members want to have more time,” he said.
Most merchants in the city did not hear about the legislation before the meeting, Councilwoman Eileen Barber said before the council decision. In the days before the meeting, she sought out employees and owners at local businesses to discuss the legislation.
The council also alluded to the proposal as cause for another debate between 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.)
The lineup of speakers before the council deliberations included representatives from environmental groups and plastic bag manufacturers.
Proponents said plastic bags pose problems at recycling facilities and use up space at the local landfill needed for nonrecyclable items. Opponents said outlawing the bags could hurt businesses in the region.
“The plastic bags that you’re talking about banning are all made in America,” said Keith Lee, president of American Retail Supply, a bag manufacturer in Kent.
Supporters also cited marine pollution in Puget Sound and around the globe as reasons for the plastic bag ban.
“Whales, salmon, seals and other critters in the sound can mistake these bags for food, which can cause them to choke or starve to death,” said Robb Krehbiel, a program associate for Environment Washington, a statewide advocacy group.
Opponents suggested the problem is not the bags, but the subsequent litter. Critics said a shift in behavior to encourage people to recycle or reuse plastic bags is a more crucial need than a ban.
Holly Chisa, Washington lobbyist for the Northwest Grocery Association, a plastic bag ban backer, said the change is all but impossible. (The trade group represents Fred Meyer, QFC and Safeway.)
“Frankly, we’ve tried education, we’ve tried recycling, we’ve tried signs in the parking lot, we’ve tried stickers on the window,” she said. “We have not been able to get folks to make the switch.”
The contentious discussion attracted a rare sight at Issaquah council meetings — television cameras from Seattle news organizations.
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.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.