Issaquah starts countdown to plastic bag ban
February 26, 2013
By Warren Kagarise
The citywide ban on most retail plastic bags starts March 1, and Issaquah leaders are reminding residents and retailers to prepare for the ordinance to go into effect.
The measure also sets a 5-cent fee for most paper carryout bags. Under the ordinance, retailers keep the fee to offset the cost to phase out plastic bags. Shoppers can see the expense itemized on receipts.
Though the ordinance requires most plastic bags to disappear from retailers in March, 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.
Some businesses might also need time to exhaust existing plastic bag supplies. Businesses can also apply for temporary waivers from the plastic bag ban.
“So, one of the things I’m making sure to tell them is, ‘We don’t want you to throw away all your plastic bags that you have left over. You’re allowed to go through any existing stock,’” said Micah Bonkowski, a resource conservation coordinator in the city Office of Sustainability. “That would defeat the purpose, to just throw them all in the garbage.”
The plastic bag ban goes into effect in March for retailers of 7,500 square feet or more. The measure does not go into effect for smaller businesses until March 1, 2014.
The city plans to distribute reusable bags to about 600 low-income households and also to the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank to provide to clients.
The ordinance exempts food banks, state and federal financial assistance program recipients, and services for low-income earners from the 5-cent fee.
The city ordered 4,200 polypropylene bags in lime green, emblazoned with the city logo and the phrase “One less bag” on the side. Residents can pick up a complimentary bag at the CleanScapes store.
What to know
Shoppers can pick up a complimentary reusable bag while supplies last at the CleanScapes store, 317 N.W. Gilman Blvd.
Money for the bags came from $10,000 authorized by City Council members to implement the ordinance.
The penalty for defying the ordinance is a $250 fine, although officials plan to work alongside violators. The city adopted a similar approach in October 2010 as Issaquah banned polystyrene, or Styrofoam, restaurant takeout containers.
“The city’s attitude is similar to the polystyrene ban,” Bonkowski said. “We’re going to try and work with businesses as much as possible at first.”
The preparation effort also includes education and outreach to consumers. The city set up a website to offer more information about the plastic bag ordinance.
In June 2012, Issaquah joined a string of cities along Puget Sound to outlaw plastic bags at local retailers. Concerns about the environment led the council to decide 5-2 to eliminate most retail uses for plastic bags.
The plastic bag ban sponsor, then-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. (Mullet is now the state senator representing the 5th Legislative District.)
The plastic bag ban is similar to ordinances in Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Edmonds, Mukilteo and Port Townsend. Issaquah is the only Eastside city — and the only municipality inland from Puget Sound — to enact such legislation.
Bonkowski said residents and retailers heard about the Issaquah ordinance early, perhaps due to other cities implementing similar legislation in recent months.
“This one is following a little closer on the heels of Seattle doing the same thing,” he said.