City Council bans plastic bags at Issaquah retailers

June 12, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Ordinance goes into effect for most businesses in March 2013

Issaquah joined a string of cities along Puget Sound to outlaw plastic bags at local retailers June 4, 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 — and a 5-cent fee on paper bags — 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 City 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, from plastics manufacturers to mom-and-pop stores.

“I believe that our society must change our habits so that we are not so wasteful of nonrenewable resources,” Issaquah resident Lori Danielson said before the council decision. “Our population is growing fast, and in order to ensure a high quality of life in years to come, we must conserve and thoughtfully use the limited nonrenewable resources that we have.”

What to know

Do retailers offer discounts for reusable bags?

Retailers prefer customers use reusable bags because the practice saves money as stores need to purchase fewer bags for consumers.

Target, for instance, offers a 5-cent discount for each reusable bag used during purchase.

Other major retailers, such as Safeway, phased out reusable bag discounts in recent years after executives said the incentive did not do enough to change consumer behavior.

Fred Meyer and QFC — both owned by Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. — do not offer a reusable-bag discount, but encourage customers to tote reusable bags instead of using paper or plastic.

What does the plastic bag ban exempt?

Though the ordinance requires most plastic bags to disappear from retailers in March 2013, consumers should not expect to see the bags vanish altogether.

The legislation contains exemptions for plastic bags for bakery items, bulk foods, meat, produce, dry cleaning, newspapers, small hardware items and takeout foods.

In addition, the measure exempts food banks, state and federal financial assistance program recipients, and services for low-income earners from the 5-cent fee.

What city could adopt a plastic bag ban next?

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. In the initial vote June 4, members approved the plastic bag ban. Once the measure returns to the full council from committee, members expect to approve the legislation next month.

Ken Holmes, marketing director for Seattle-based bag manufacturer American Plastics Manufacturing, said the measure harms the economy rather than aids the environment.

“There’s got to be better uses of your time and resources than legislation that hurts working families and small businesses while doing nothing for the environment,” he said.

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 offset the changeover cost as retailers eliminate plastic bags.

Ordinance does not ban all bags from retailers

Still, consumers should not expect plastic bags to disappear from local businesses altogether.

The ordinance includes exemptions for numerous everyday uses, such as plastic bags to carry dry cleaning and newspapers.

The legislation also exempts restaurants, so diners can expect compostable takeout containers to come in plastic bags at some establishments. The city mandated compostable takeout containers for restaurants in November 2009.

The plastic bag ban goes into effect March 1, 2013, for retailers of 7,500 square feet — or a little larger than Blakely Hall in the Issaquah Highlands — or more. The measure does not go into effect for smaller businesses until March 1, 2014.

Councilman Joshua Schaer, a ban opponent, instead called for the city to consider a user fee for plastic bags.

Issaquah is the only Eastside city — and the only municipality inland from Puget Sound — to enact such legislation.

The plastic bag ban is similar to ordinances in Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Edmonds and Mukilteo. But local officials ordered a phased implementation and added provisions for organizers of outdoor festivals, such as Salmon Days, to apply for waivers from the ordinance.

“This isn’t Seattle’s bill. This isn’t anybody else’s bill. This is Issaquah’s bill,” Council President Tola Marts said.

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 decision was the culmination of months of discussion and outreach.

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.

Opposition comes from environmentalists, merchants

Local environmentalists split on the legislation, despite the possible environmental benefits supporters described.

The vocal Issaquah Environmental Council came out against the proposal after members said the legislation did not go far enough to encourage consumers to switch to reusable bags. Save Lake Sammamish, a group dedicated to a healthy lake and watershed, supported the plastic bag ban.

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.

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.

“I expected a larger outcry from small businesses, because I was concerned — and I continue to be concerned — about the impact on small businesses,” Councilwoman Stacy Goodman said.

Councilwoman Eileen Barber said the ordinance could create a competitive disadvantage for Issaquah businesses, and then she cast a vote against the legislation.

“At this moment in time, we will be one of the only cities on the Eastside that has this, and it will definitely probably affect business,” she said.

Representatives from “green” businesses in Issaquah and the surrounding area, PCC Natural Markets and Cedar Grove Composting, advocated for the legislation.

“We’re a business, too, and, unfortunately, when we screen this material out, it actually hurts our ability to take good organic material. It adds a lot of costs, it adds a lot of people to pick this out of the material that comes in,” said Cedar Grove Composting representative Susan Thoman, a Ziploc bag full of carryout plastic bags in hand.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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13 Responses to “City Council bans plastic bags at Issaquah retailers”

  1. Save Our Choice Campaign on June 12th, 2012 9:38 pm

    The campaign to REPEAL the Issaquah bag ban is now online. Download the signature petition from the home page, to get the law on the ballot so you can vote on the issue. Signatures must be of registered voters who reside in Issaquah.

    — Save Our Choice

  2. bryan on June 13th, 2012 8:17 am

    somebody was / is collecting petition signatures outside of the gilman qfc. issaquah is not a referendum/petition driven city; it’s not clear to me what collecting signatures of issaquah residents will do other than provide for a database of names and addresses of people who live in issaquah – the city council (as we have seen all too often) often disregards the voice of the people and does what they want.

  3. Issaquah Resident on June 13th, 2012 10:45 am

    I have had the opportunity to live in a lot of wonderful places around the world, and Issaquah is truly one of the places that “tops” the list. I have also lived in a variety of politically minded locations in which I have been of the minority mind as well as the majority mind. Settling in Issaquah, I was truly hoping for a happy medium; a place where I could teach my children to embrace their community and make positive changes without a government mandate to do so. I was therefore disappointed with the recent unabashed support by the Issaquah City Council [as well as the Issaquah Press] of the bag ban ordinance. Councilman Mark Mullet’s introduction of this ordinance was surprising to me, especially considering Mark Mullet’s State campaign stance on creating an educational environment for future generations, as well as making Washington an attractive climate for businesses to relocate. Passing the ordinance, and essentially taking away the voice of the people to change things on their own, defies the true nature of democracy, let alone the attractiveness factor to potential families and businesses. As a matter of fact, historically, the movements that last are those that take the time to garner support, to educate the citizenry of the importance of the movement. But yet again, much like Mark Mullet’s championing of the local medical marijuana dispensary, the council valued voices largely originating from outside the eastside as opposed to those living in Issaquah. In case you may have forgotten, Mark Mullet addressed the GreenlinkCollective, when he stated something to the effect of ‘the citizens of Issaquah should take a civics lesson from dispensary supporters.’ I find that statement ironic when considering that the subsequent passing of a bag ban ordinance was the opposite of civic duty. In the words of Issaquah Press, I say “phooey” to the actions of the city council, and the less than critical support of the council’s lap dog, the Issaquah Press, for doing little to spread the fervor of education and denying the empirical ability of Issaquah residents to reduce, reuse, and recycle on their own provocation. John D. Rockefeller Jr. stated that “we must instill a sense of duty in our children; every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty” and most importantly, this advice is not the effect of mandate, but rather, education.

  4. Alan McSwain on June 13th, 2012 11:12 am

    Yet again we find the “Nanny State” lazy mentality running wild. Rather than tackle the really tough problems like making government smaller, cheaper and more efficient, they take the easy way out and take away freedoms and add taxes (yes that 5 cents per paper bag is a -tax- my friend…) and endless hyper-regulation.

    As citizens watching this farce play out, we must call into question the gullibility and the math skills of the City Council members. 10 MILLION bags per year from a population of only 25,000 is 400 bags per year per person. So a family of five gets 2,000 bags a year? That’s 5.4 bags -per day-. Preposterous. Reality is closer to 20 bags per week or about 1,000 bags per year, half of of that 10M estimated bags.

    The “overburdened” landfill argument is a canard too. The typical grocery store plastic bag has a real compressed volume of only one third of a cubic inch. My household’s 20 discarded bags a week comes to a whopping 6 cubic inches of landfill space. Compare this to the approximately 144 cubic inches of used cat litter my family disposes per week and you can clearly see that the City Council’s powers of prioritization and reasoning don’t amount to that stuff mixed in with the cat litter.

  5. Save Our Choice Campaign on June 13th, 2012 1:58 pm

    @bryan: The City of Issaquah does support / allow referendum of ordinance, according to City Code 1.12.010. See this link to code …

    So valid signatures on our petition will count toward getting the bag ban ordinance on the next municipal ballot, for a vote of the people.

    — Save Our Choice Campaign

  6. on June 13th, 2012 2:06 pm

    We thank Bryan for his concern and agree that distrust of Clowncil is richly deserved. What is the present majority smoking!!!!

    Indeed, “you got that right!” That is, the right of citizens to veto council action through referendum.

    The City of Issaquah is a noncharter code city whose conduct is governed not by a city charter but by the “Optional municipal code” Chapter 35A Revised Code of Washington. Specific to the ability of citizens to defend themselves against imprudent Clowncil legislation, voters of Issaquah may view proof of their powers to engage referendum or initiative here:

    To engage the fight now, please download the referendem petition pdf file from:

    Declare your Independence from Nanny Tokenism! Appropriately enough, signatures are due by July 4th!

  7. dede on June 13th, 2012 9:17 pm

    I’m very disappointed in the council in voting this in. There are many studies to show the reusable bags carry many germs, bacteria etc that is more harmful to humans as we continue to re-use them. In addition charging the consumer 5 cents to use a bag. Stores should be able to absorb the costs and the transaction fee probably costs the stores more than 5 cents.
    My self and a group of at leat 100 friends will no longer shop in issaquah once this takes effect. We will do our shopping in Bellevue or Sammamish on our way home from work.

  8. Being played by out-of-town troublemakers on June 14th, 2012 9:38 am

    “Save Our Choice” is actually Craig Keller, a Seattle Republican activist. He failed to get a recall on the Seattle bill…

    ..and if he succeeds in getting the recall on the ballot, the taxpayers of Issaquah will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to subsidize his partisan troublemaking. But what the heck- it’s not his money, right?

  9. Smoley on June 14th, 2012 10:52 am

    Follow the money. Just watch which environmental groups from outside the district make campaign donations to councilman Mark Mullet’s upcoming run for state senate.

    If this ordinance were truly about saving the environment, there wouldn’t be so many exemptions for other types of plastic bags, nor would paper bags still be allowed.

    Folks, we have been bamboozled by a feel-good measure that is going to do nothing for the environment and once you dig into the facts of the matter, it will very likely make things worse.

    The city of Issaquah has a known sales tax revenue shortfall this year and if this ordinance causes people to shop elsewhere, get ready to pony up for a tax increase. Our city leaders should be passing laws that would attract shoppers to our city, not drive them away.

    I applaud the actions of the group to get this overturned and will be sending them a check later today. I’d encourage anyone else who would like to see this ordinance on the ballot to do the same. Let’s send a message to the city council that they obviously did’n’t hear from a large part of our community before passing this ordinance.

  10. Don Williams on June 14th, 2012 11:24 am

    People of Issaquah: You should oppose this bag ban, and other nanny-state laws such as this at all costs. This is an abuse of power of the worse kind. The city council (like most who pass these laws) pretends to carefully weigh all the arguments, yet when it is obvious that it will cause only confusion, hurt business, and likely do little to nothing to improve anything, they go ahead and impose their will on the people. Taking away freedoms from citizens should only be done in the most dire of circumstances. Consider this:
    – The businesses and people of Issaquah ALREADY have the option not to offer or take plastic bags, or to charge for paper bags. Apparently, the city council does not like the choices the people are making. (Translation: You common people are obviously not smart enough to make this decision on your own…)
    – If this goes to a vote of the people, then whoever votes for a ban realize this: You are voting against the rights of your neighbor to get a bag for convenience. You already have the option not to get a bag or to use a reusable bag. You are basically forcefully taking away a freedom from your neighbor against their will.
    – For all of the confusion, costs, and waste of time, wouldn’t it be better to address the larger trash problems than to stop people from getting a 1/4 ounce plastic bag?
    – Why didn’t the city council put it to a vote of the people? Obviously, it is very controversial and there were arguments on both sides. In such a case, it would be normal to do nothing (unless there is overwhelming support and hard data), or at the minimum to put it to a vote of the people. Who made the city council “dictators” who decide what types of bags people shall be allowed to get, for what purpose, and who is exempted (i.e. who are their friends who don’t need to be inconvenienced).
    – These bag laws hurt the environmental movement. Instead of encouraging people to conserve and reuse in all areas of their life, they are focusing on a tiny fractional particular use of a bag (that is highly convenient), and forcefully taking it away from people. This angers a lot of people, who basically fume at this abuse of power, and give “environmentalists” a bad reputation. It is much better to encourage people to use reusable bags when possible, as well as look at all areas of their life for waste. This respects the minds and freedoms of the people, rather than control them.

    For a list of the many reasons why bag bans are senseless and bad, see our websites at and

    We support the will of the people of Issaquah in voting to overturn this senseless law that only inconveniences everyone with little to no positive impact to the environment.

  11. issaquahMom on June 16th, 2012 12:26 am

    I support this ban, and I am very proud our city leaders can make unpopular but necessary decisions.

    It is hardly inconvenient to carry a reusable bag or two in the bottom of your purse or in your car. For germ–a-phobes, most are machine washable.

    The cost of such bags (my family uses Chico-bags because they fold up into a small pouch) is negligible. My family of four is on a tight budget, and we can still do this. In fact, it helps us curb excessive spending at the store because we will not purchase items for which we do not have tote bags.

    We have all learned how to shop at Costco without bags.

    This does help the environmental movement because it forces people to make a small change and then they can learn how easy it can be. Perhaps in the overall picture this makes only a small impact, but if the ban had been on something major, for example, cars which get less than 35 mpg, no one would support it. Baby steps, people.

    Every piece of plastic that has ever been produced still exists. When there are simple and effective low cost alternatives, a moral society requires making the switch.

  12. Pat Lee on June 17th, 2012 8:55 pm

    WTF. So idiotic. theres no science that says plastic bags are filling up landfills. And for anyone who flies anywhere…theres not shortage of land to use as landfill….so this is just more BS feel good actions buy people who think they know more than you and want to tell you how to live you lives…And… even worse….it’s going to cost money for something that has been free….
    Start standing up to people who want to tell you how to live your lives. Let common sense prevail.

  13. Mom with an Opinion on July 17th, 2013 7:43 pm

    This evening, as I read the Issaquah Press (Yes, I subscribe to it even though I live in the City of Sammamish-because we are a Community, not just a city), I noticed yet another article about the bag ban. Since when does a small city council have the right to make a decision that at least 2700 petition signers were against. Sure, the people of the City of Issaquah might have voted you in, but don’t you listen to your voters? I live in the City of Sammamish, but I do most all of my major shopping in the City of Issaquah. This has been the most obnoxious and frustrating city ordinance I’ve ever experienced. As one, of probably half of the people of Sammamish who do some shopping in Issaquah, I now make it a point to do my shopping outside of Issaquah, when possible. I like to shop where I am treated like a customer who is worth a free bag. I’m sure if you included the surrounding areas that shop in Issaquah in your petition collecting, we could easily have collected thousands more signers. People just have more important things to do than sit around fighting about plastic bags. Please get off your power plays, find something more important to vote on, and quit trying to play into the hand of Mark Mullet. Please just let our community be the customer friendly place it should be.

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