Residents settle in to bag ban
April 23, 2013
By Peter Clark
After almost two months of the Issaquah bag ban, which bars large-scale retailers from distributing plastic shopping bags to customers, the reception has been generally positive.
The ban went into effect March 1 for retail stores larger than 10,000 square feet.
Prior to the implementation, the city’s Department of Sustainability launched an extensive education campaign for citizens and retailers. Resource Conservation Coordinator Micah Bonkowski was pleased to find that most of the affected stores were prepared for the law.
Seattle passed a similar ordinance a year ago, and most of the big retailers in Issaquah also have locations in the larger city. Because of that, Bonkowski said they were familiar with the protocol and management of the decision.
“Chances are if you have a store that big, you have a store in Seattle,” he said. “The wording of the ordinance is consistent with every other city’s, and because of that, those retailers had no trouble.”
Though there were initial hurdles immediately after the bill passed, the change did not create a very large stir with most.
“It’s been really up and down,” Nic Scheiner, manager at the Meadows QFC, said. “Some are literally outraged, saying, ‘I’ve never voted for it,’ but it’s definitely just a matter of time before they are used to it.”
“Most people didn’t know,” Front Street Market Store Manager Tracye Randall said. “They might mumble under their breath, but most are OK with it.”
Most all of the retailers affected by the bag ban were large chains, such as Safeway and Target. Front Street Market was the sole locally-owned operation that had to stop using plastic bags, according to Bonkowski. They have taken a different approach by still offering plastic bags to customers to buy. Store Manager Lori Surridge understood the reasoning for the ban but believes the city could have approached it differently.
“We still do our plastic bags that everyone begged us not to get rid of,” she said. To align with the ordinance, which stipulated the thickness of regulated bags, they increased the weight of the bags they supplied. Selling five for $1, Surridge said those bags are already recycled.
For her, the timing, consideration and implementation were all problematic.
“I do think it should be done, but the timing was not right,” she said. “With the economy the way it is, it was just one more thing to put on peoples’ plates. The city could have focused on something a little more important.”
She also voiced disappointment with the lack of education she felt the city provided, saying that the citywide push that was promised did not occur until after the ordinance was in effect.
Though “picking your battles” was often heard when discussing the ban, there is one group that has set its sights on this one.
Bonkowski said there was a “vocal minority” that continued to speak out against the city’s action. One of the most prominent of those rejecting the ban is the Save Our Choice group, a regional organization that has previously fought against a like ordinance in Seattle and turned its attention to Issaquah. The crux of its argument, according to the group’s website, is that it does not want what it feels are personal liberties to be decided by a “nanny state.” It collected 2,700 signatures last summer to bring the issue to a referendum, but the city said that a portion of those collected were too late for inclusion on the November ballot.
Save Our Choice launched another recall effort March 1 to collect enough signatures in hopes of recalling the decision in this year’s election. Save Our Choice representatives did not respond to attempts to contact them.
For Bonkowski, the effort is all about changing consumer perception, and he believes that it is going well.
“The biggest objective is just to get people to remember their reusable bags,” he said. “The larger goal is to help the long-term cultural shift.”
With a staggered approach built into the ban, the ordinance will take effect for smaller retailers in the area March 1, 2014.