When Shoreline’s plastic-bag ban takes effect Saturday, the city will be in good company. Good, reusable-bag-toting company.
The city’s ban prohibits retail stores from providing customers with plastic carryout bags and requires that stores charge a minimum of 5 cents for paper grocery-sized bags. State and federal food-assistance-program customers are exempt.
Plastic bags can be used for items where moisture might be a problem, for restaurant takeout orders and as dry-cleaner, newspaper and bulk-foods bags.
The terms of the Shoreline ban should sound familiar to Seattle residents; it was modeled, almost verbatim, after Seattle’s, according to Shoreline management analyst John Norris.
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About two years after Seattle passed its ordinance, plastic-bag bans are a growing trend in Washington. Eleven municipalities
have passed ordinances prohibiting merchants from providing plastic
“After Seattle did it, there was this thought that ‘they are the big city, and they did it,’ and they didn’t have this huge backlash,” Norris said. “The (Shoreline) council heard from both sides, with some supportive, others not, but once it happened, the community was resigned to it.”
Shoreline resident Kathleen Pomerinke prefers reusable bags over plastic bags, and remembers to bring them into the store about 95 percent of the time, she said as other customers at a Fred Meyer in Shoreline carried paper and plastic bags filled with groceries Friday afternoon.
“I think it’s the responsible way to deal with pollution,” she said.
At Town and Country Markets in cities with plastic-bag bans, 81 percent more customers started bringing in their own bags after the bans took effect, according to Tony D’Onofrio, the company’s sustainability director.
The Bainbridge Island ban, which took effect in 2012, is a success, Mayor Anne Blair said.
“I can’t even remember the last time I have gone to the drugstore or the grocery store and people have not had their cloth bags,” Blair said. “I saw someone in a scooter who left his bag in his car, but instead of asking for another bag, he said ‘no, put it in my basket.’ He wasn’t going to take the easy way.”
Advocates see Shoreline’s ban as another victory in a domino effect toward a possible statewide ban, said Katrina Rosen, field director for the left-leaning Environment Washington.
One concern, Rosen said, is that plastic bags don’t break down and wind up in water or landfills. They can hurt wildlife; a whale that died on a West Seattle beach in 2010 had more than 20 plastic bags in its stomach, according to news reports at the time.
“The biggest problem with plastic bags is that once they get into Puget Sound they never go away,” Rosen said.
Opponents question the science, however, and say the bans are a threat to consumer freedom.
“It’s very much an environmental fad,” said Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank
. “If you ask City Council members about the trade-offs, they say we don’t want plastic bags in the water, but if you ask the scientific effects of others (types of bags), they really don’t know.”
Issaquah, which passed a plastic-bag ban in June 2012 that went into effect last March, will hold a special election Feb. 11 asking voters whether
to keep it. A volunteer group collected enough signatures for a petition asking the council to either repeal the ban or put it to a vote.
Craig Keller, who lives in West Seattle, helped launch the signature drive in Issaquah and has been involved in similar campaigns in other cities. Merchants and consumers, he said, should have the right to choose whether they use a plastic bag, without government regulation.
“These options are best left to the private sector,” Keller said. “The same people who ban our plastic bags are the ones who will ban the Second Amendment, our medical choices.”
The Northwest Grocery Association, a nonprofit that represents the largest grocery chains in the region, supports the bag-ban ordinances as long as they apply to all retailers, allow
stores to recoup losses by charging 5 cents for paper bags and allow exceptions for food-stamp programs, according to Holly Chisa, lobbyist for the association.
Stores have gotten used to the bans, said Melinda Merrill, spokeswoman for Fred Meyer stores. “Now it’s not that big of a deal,” she said.
In Edmonds, which in 2009 was the first Washington city to prohibit plastic bags, the ban was more to raise awareness of preserving the health of Puget Sound environment than to reduce the number of bags, recycling coordinator Steve Fisher said.
“With that whole idea of the society being responsible, it was a fairly easy local action that could be used to raise awareness,” Fisher said.
Seattle Public Utilities’ waste-prevention manager, Dick Lilly, called the Seattle ban extremely effective and said stores have complied with the rules. He cited a 2007 study that indicated there were about 290 million lightweight plastic bags given out by Seattle stores each year. And the Bainbridge Town and Country Market and the Ballard Market reduced their use of plastic bags, after the bans went into effect, by 592,000 plastic bags per year.
“There are fewer of these lightweight plastic bags being used,” Lilly said. “That means there are a lot less getting thrown away from users and blown into the water.”
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2517 or email@example.com