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.

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17 Responses to “City Council outlaws plastic bags in Issaquah”

  1. Robin Spicer on June 5th, 2012 1:30 am

    Very pleased by the CIty Council’s decision. I realize it was a tough decision but by the time this ordinance takes affect, it will seem the common sense, forward-thinking and (most likely) national trend toward minimizing global waste…driving businesses to move toward smart, alternative solutions that reduce our human “footprint” and, thus, eliminating the need to tap expensive, damaging and limited resources.

  2. Connie Marsh on June 5th, 2012 8:03 am

    I hope they follow this up with a program to clean up litter. We will still have all kinds of plastics blowing around getting into the Creeks and Lake Sammamish. Community Clean-up days would really help!

  3. Nathan on June 5th, 2012 8:45 am

    I’m disappointed to see that City Council passed the plastic bag ban. The voters of Issaquah were denied a chance to decide on an issue that will affect everyone. The Northwest Grocery Association supported this ban. Why wouldn’t they? They don’t have to give away free bags anymore and get to charge 5 cents per bag. I doubt that grocery prices will go down.

    So we will have to pay 5 cents per bag or we will have to re-use bags that the grocers sell us (more money). What’s wrong with re-usable bags? Assuming you keep them in your car at all times so you don’t forget them, you are putting food in a bag (which may or may not contain lead) that’s been harvesting bacteria and dirt from the trunk of your car. Alternatively, you can wash your re-useable bags every time. Using even more water and detergent, very green of us, isn’t it?

    The council voted 5-2 to pass the ban. In theory, 29% were against the ban. Nearby cities of Bellevue, Sammamish, and Redmond don’t have a bag ban. People can get their bags and those cities will love the extra sales taxes. If they work in one of those cities, it is just as easy to shop there. Banning bags in Issaquah won’t reduce plastic bag usage as much as the Grocery Association would like you to think. There’s a brand new Bellevue Wal-Mart grocery store with cheaper prices and free bags in MY future.

  4. Jeff Lebowski on June 5th, 2012 9:02 am

    Although I will be one of the first to forget my re-usable bag in March 2013, I will be more than happy to pay the $0.05 penalty knowing the City of Issaquah is making a positive attempt to reduce overall waste.

    Nathan, you crack me up.

  5. Portlandia on June 5th, 2012 9:09 am

    I almost forgot, please enjoy this clip …

  6. Smoley on June 5th, 2012 10:15 am

    As a longtime Issaquah resident, this decision saddens me. A lot of numbers are thrown around about these plastic bags and how much they harm marine life and pack our landfills. The thing is, no one can tell you how many single-use plastic bags from Issaquah retail stores have ended up in Puget Sound or our local waterways, or for that matter, even the landfill. Consequently there is no way to judge whether this ban will have any effect over time. It’s just a “feel good” measure passed by what I believe to be an uninformed city council that refuses to do what would really address a problem.

    Plastic in a landfill a problem? Sure, well then why aren’t all plastic bags banned? Everyone uses plastic trash bags each week and the landfills are full of them. They use far more plastic than the small plastic shopping bags, but no apparent concern about this. What about the single-use plastic bags for carry-out food? Are you going to tell me that none of these type of bags make it into the bellies of marine animals or clog the landfills? But, those bags are specifically excluded under this new ordinance. This sort of logic just doesn’t make sense to me. Either we have a problem, or we don’t.

    The thing is, we didn’t need a new law for this. There is nothing keeping anyone from asking for a paper bag or using their own totes today. No one is forcing you to use a plastic bag in this city. If you choose to use them, you can recycle them either at the large grocery stores in town, or via your blue bin. We have laws already on the books regarding the proper disposal of waste, littering, etc., and yet our city government feels that because of an irresponsible few (that likely don’t even live in Issaquah), all Issaquah shoppers and businesses should be punished? Why?

    Oh I’m sure there will be some that benefit from this new ordinance, but it won’t be the marine life in Lake Sammamish, Issquah Creek, or Puget Sound. I wonder how much new money councilman Mark Mullet will now be able to raise from outside environmental groups for his campaign as he runs for State Senate? Hmmm…

  7. Issaquah Resident on June 5th, 2012 12:18 pm

    I am thoroughly disappointed with the City Council’s ban of plastic bags, however graduated the process might be. As an Issaquah resident, I am [of course] concerned with recycling, promoting the welfare of wildlife through clean living, as well as providing a secure waste free environment for my children. However, what I do not condone is the totalitarian attempt to disregard the people of Issaquah in this vote. I realize this is an election year, and I imagine that some Council members involved in various statewide elections may attempt to use this ordinance to hang their hat on and thereby justify “what they have done” to change the face of the community in which they live.

    An analytical evaluation of the Council’s ordinance, however, indicates that last night’s approval was rather imprudent. Proposals worthy of community-wide support typically highlight the significance of the problem (usually demonstrated by a numeric value), the harms faced by the continuation of the situation, how the status quo fails to explicitly solve the problem, provide a plan to erase the harmfully significant issues mentioned, followed by a tangible measure/solvency that demonstrates exactly how the plan has met its goal.

    The Council’s bag ban sadly falls short of several worthy criteria and comes across as a ‘feel good’ and ‘shoot from the hip’ answer to something that inherently deserves community input. While I empathize with the need to siphon the use of plastics, Council member Mark Mullet failed to crystallize on numbers specific to Issaquah; the harms inherent to Issaquah’s use of plastic bags; how any past or otherwise proposed ideas to deter the use of plastic bags would not and have not worked (over a period of time longer than the past 6 months); and most importantly, how we as Issaquah residents would be able to tangibly measure the success of a proposal that is influenced more by emotional appeal than logical community-wide support.

    The failure to garner community-wide support is significant. The failure to allow the people of Issaquah to come together is significant. The claim that the status quo is negligent when empirically recycling programs in Issaquah prove otherwise is significant. I give more faith to the residents of Issaquah and a legitimate drive to educate locals than the Council’s bag ordinance. Like other items we regularly distribute to our recycle bins, the use of plastic bags would have inevitably seen better days. Last night’s vote removed another opportunity for community unity in Issaquah, and instead valued grass-roots pressure over leadership; that does not seem like a wise political, let alone business-minded, move.

  8. Issaquah Resident on June 5th, 2012 1:25 pm

    I liked the Portlandia clip…that was excellent!

  9. Nathan T. Perea on June 5th, 2012 4:32 pm

    As a concerned resident and business person in Issaquah, I think this is one of those issues that is going to take a while to sort out exactly how it will hit the end consumer. New regulations always come with unintended consequenes AND benefits.

    Over the next 12 months, it will be interesting to solicit feedback and gauge the plans of both retailers and consumers.

    In the very short-term, my concern lies in the sentiment of some of these comments, over what’s being made into a divisive issue i.e. planning to shop at WalMart in Bellevue rather than our local stores.

    Please continue to support local merchants here in Issaquah. If nothing else, we as a city benefit from the sales tax and jobs that depend on local purchases.

    If you feel strongly enough against the issue, please choose to voice those concerns to the council in a constructive manner.

    – Nate

  10. Marty Vetere on June 5th, 2012 11:17 pm

    Unhappy with the Bag Ban? Vote out the five council members who voted for it.

  11. Smoley on June 6th, 2012 3:50 pm

    Did you miss the comment from councilwoman Goodman who said that she was surprised that there was not more opposing feedback coming from the small business community in Issaquah (she said something to the effect that there was hardly any at all). Apparently this wasn’t a big deal to them so they aren’t going to miss the thousands of dollars per year that I spend on groceries alone in this town that will soon be going to Sammamish, Bellevue, or Renton.

    Marty, don’t worry, I won’t forget the “Feel-good Five” that passed this nonsense. I’ll be sending a campaign donation to whomever is running against them next time around.

  12. Jimu on June 6th, 2012 8:22 pm

    Issaquah doesn’t need the city council’s politically trendy, do-nothing brand of environmentalism. They put no metrics in the legislation to measure whether this new ban will be a success or a failure which insures that there will be no accountability. All this does is increase the amount of greenhouse gasses that will be produced. But they don’t see greenhouse gasses floating around in the ocean, do they?

    Now Mark Mullet can put a “green” stamp on his political resume as he runs for State Senate. If he keeps passing bills that look like they do something without actually doing anything he’s guaranteed to have a long career as a politician.

    Did you know that Zeek’s pizza still uses plastic bags? You’d think an “environmentalist” like Mark Mullet would have been proactive in cutting the plastic bags out of his business before pushing a plastic bag ban on the rest of Issaquah. Apparently, he’s not concerned about walking-the-walk.

    It’s time to clean house at the City Council. Thank you Joshua Schaer and Eileen Barber for having your own brain.

  13. Nathan T. Perea on June 7th, 2012 9:25 am

    Smoley – the small business community did give its input in several forms throughout the process. Several people gave comment during the public comment time periods leading up to the council meeting where the decision was made.

    There were also a lot of individual conversations had between councilmembers and the business community before the decision was made.

    We (The Chamber) did surveys of businesses and provided those results to the Council via a letter.

    I imagine Councilmember Goodman was surprised at the turnout on that particular evening – that’s just my guess.

    As mentioned previously, if you are that opposed – make your voice heard with your vote/input, but I would urge people to still support local merchants… THEY did not pass the bag ban, the council did.

    – Nate

  14. Smoley on June 7th, 2012 5:33 pm

    Hi Nate,

    I watched the meeting live on TV from my home Monday night, so I know what councilman Goodman said. If you were at the June 4th meeting I’m surprised that you missed this.

    Please go watch the video of the June 4th council meeting. Here’s a link: mms://

    Fast forward the video to 3:10:50 and then listen to what she says.

    Here’s the particular part I’m talking about…

    “One segment that, um, it sort of surprised me that we didn’t really hear, or at least I didn’t hear a lot from small businesses. I expected a larger outcry from small businesses because I was concerned, and continue to be concerned about the impact on small businesses, um, but direct to the council, um, in e-mails and comments before us directly I think there were just a handful and they were sort of split evenly between “for” and “against”.”

    So if the small business community in Issaquah is against this ordinance, as you claim, its concerns certainly didn’t make an impact on City Council. Either that, or the small businesses aren’t particularly worried about it (as Goodman suggests).

    I know that if I ran a small business in this town and had provided single-use plastic bags to my customers, I’d be mad enough to go to the council and bang my shoe on the lecturn Khrushchev style and make certain they knew how I felt about it. I didn’t see anything like that Monday night, so it must not be a big deal.

    BTW, Mr. Bott was kind enough to show me a letter that the CoC sent regarding this issue. I thought it was a bit tame considering that this ordinance will not attract more people from outside the city to shop here, and will likely cause the exact opposite to happen.

    You know, for a city that is already facing a significant sale tax revenue decline this year, this was not a particularly wise move by our city leaders. TIme will tell, but hey, don’t we all feel good now that we can now boast that we’re doing something to keep plastic bags distributed in the city limits of Issaquah out of the Pacific ocean and our local landfill (unless of course it’s a plastic bag from take-out food, dry cleaning, meats & produce, small nuts & bolts, trash bags, or from Salmon Days vendors,etc.).

  15. Tony Vario on June 8th, 2012 3:51 pm

    I am again truly disillusioned with Metro Council.  Every time there is a vote on something that should be academic, Metro Council puts their feet in their mouths.
    PLASTIC – do you honestly believe that we will eliminate the use of plastic bags.  I for one will purchase plastic bags which coincidentally we use (as do many thousands of households) as kitchen catchers, a vehicle for holding recycled material before it goes to the recycled bin, and those who have animals – they make a great “poop and scoop” appliance in order to dispose discreetly and cleanly.

    So tell me what is wrong with Metro Council?  Are they really there or are they just trying to justify their existence in council as a wage paid by taxpayers?
    By removing plastic bags, I suggest that we also outlaw plastic bags that hold the three liters of milk as well as the master bag that holds the three liters of milk, we should eliminate the plastic ketchup and condiment bottles, as well as windshield washer antifreeze, pill bottles, plastic 500lm, 1000 ml or 1500 ml pop bottles, or what about the juice containers, and then there are automotive parts that are made out of plastic, or the Evian water bottles,  and I can go on and on and on – just walk through the local grocery store and tell me that we aren’t dependent on plastic.  What about packaging material?  What about plastic clam shells that hold product such as eggs at Costco  – are you going to outlaw those items?  Let’s not forget the federal government is also a culprit in using plastic – just look at our new $50.00 and $100.00 bill – yes – made out of plastic.  So let’s not preach.  Then let’s bring back glass – I am sure you fellas on Metro council will find yet another problem with the alternative measure

    What about product contamination. Chicken and minced meat equals samonella and ecoli. And then you want to reuse cotton bags that capture bacteria so that you can use it again and again. I think Council didn’t really look at the issues and merely reacted “off the cuff”. Gee we give either a passing or failing grade to Restaurants in the city making sure there are no contaminants – and yet you are now allowing contaminants to be brought home
    I know this is not an area of expertise, but what about importation of goods coming into this country – the vast amounts of plastic goods coming in from the Asian market – that really don’t last – guess what – they end up in our landfills with no repercussions – we just endorse and support their economy – they should in fact send Asian discarded goods go back to China and have it disposed there.  Our government puts forth a motion that there be disposal fees on items that will one day be disposed of, well again I don’t buy it.  This program is yet another cash grab by government to steal from the working class.  Manufacturing have delicately invoked a means of self destructing the product after maybe 7 years so that we can again buy more.  Invoke stricter guidelines where products must last a minimum of 20 years.  The problem is not the plastic bags – it is the greed by manufacturing 

    I have always maintained that changing the rules should be the will of the people, not the will of individuals sitting on metro council and dictating what should be good for our fair citizens.  If our colleagues have run out of ideas – then they should be gracefully resigning their positions.

    Tony Vario

  16. Mrs. Kravitz on June 12th, 2012 1:39 pm

    Congratulations Tree City USA. Issaquah City Council just passed a pro-paper sack plan. I love paper bags. Trees are renewable and bio-degradable. A win-win for all!
    I will gladly pay my 5cent fee per bag. I’ll also being buying lots of plastic bags at Costco for home use.

  17. Ken Parsons on June 23rd, 2013 7:42 pm

    I find this very frustrating going to the grocery store and having to track down a clerk so I can ask to pay my five cents for a bag. I don’t have time for this ridiculous rule. I am betting most people would agree which is why I find it disturbing they did not conduct a public vote before this was passed. I’d like the names of the five council members who voted this in so we can get rid of them the first chance we get. They need to be voted out for even considering putting this ban through without public approval.

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