City Council outlaws plastic bags in Issaquah
June 4, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 11:20 p.m. June 4, 2012
Issaquah joined a string of cities along Puget Sound to outlaw plastic bags at local retailers Monday, after months of sometimes-acrimonious debate about adverse impacts to the marine environment and the regional economy.
In the end, concerns about the environment led the City Council to decide 5-2 to eliminate most retail uses for plastic bags. The legislation is scheduled to go into effect in March 2013 for most businesses.
The council listened to advocates from environmental groups and the plastics industry in public meetings throughout April and May, and then again before the decision.
The plastic bag ban sponsor, Issaquah Highlands entrepreneur and Councilman Mark Mullet, presented the legislation as a way to reduce the estimated 10 million plastic bags the city sends to the King County landfill each year.
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.
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 of the change.
Still, consumers should not expect for plastic bags to disappear from stores altogether.
The ordinance includes exemptions for plastic bags for bakery items, bulk foods, meat, produce, dry cleaning, newspapers, small hardware items and takeout foods.
The ban goes into effect for retailers of 7,500 square feet or more March 1, 2013. The measure does not go into effect for other businesses until March 1, 2014.
The legislation passed by the council also authorized up to $9,900 for the city to conduct a reusable bag distribution effort and launch a public education program.
The proposed plastic bag ban last reached the council for a possible decision April 2, but after listening to comments from environmental organizations and plastics manufacturers — but only a handful of remarks from city residents — members delayed action.
In a push to collect more input on the proposal to outlaw plastic bags at Issaquah businesses, the council scheduled additional opportunities for the public to comment on the ban.
The vocal Issaquah Environmental Council opposed the legislation. Members said the proposal did not go far enough to encourage consumers to switch to reusable bags.
Overall, local business owners offered a lukewarm response to the proposal, and the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce declined to take a position on the issue.
Councilwoman Eileen Barber questioned impacts to local businesses and cast a vote against the legislation. Councilman Joshua Schaer raised concerns about the process and then cast the other dissenting vote.
Statewide lobbyists for grocers and restaurateurs advocated for the plastic bag ban.
Holly Chisa, Washington lobbyist for the Northwest Grocery Association, a plastic bag ban backer, urged council members not to yield to outside opposition to the legislation. The trade group represents Fred Meyer, QFC and Safeway.
The council also listened to a representative from the Washington Restaurant Association, another ban proponent.
The local plastic bag ban is similar to ordinances in Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Edmonds and Mukilteo. Issaquah is the only Eastside city — and the only locale inland from Puget Sound — to enact such legislation.
In Port Townsend, City Council members considered a plastic bag ban on the same day as Issaquah leaders.
Port Townsend council members sent the legislation to a council committee for additional discussion. The full council is expected to decide on the proposal next month.