By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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The ban requires retail stores to discontinue use of flimsy plastic bags and instead supply paper bags to customers who lack reusable bags and charge 5 cents for each paper bag, which will be used to defray the cost of the program.
“I already use all my own bags, so I don't have any problem,” said Heather Gilden of Port Hadlock as she shopped at Safeway in Port Townsend.
Stacey Larsen of Port Townsend said she favors the change.
“I never use plastic bags and usually bring my own cloth bags, although I forgot them today,” she said as she carried out her three items by hand.
Supporters believe plastic is harmful to the environment and hope the ban will encourage people to acquire reusable shopping bags instead of relying on the stores to provide paper bags.
Lianna Conklin of Port Townsend, another Safeway customer, isn't convinced the ban will serve its intended purpose.
“I'm not opposed to the ban, and it's not an inconvenience for me,” she said.
“But I question the idea that [the ban] helps the environment because now everyone who needs plastic sacks for something will buy them and use them anyway.”
The ban, which was approved by the City Council on July 2, made Port Townsend the seventh Washington city to pass a similar ordinance, after Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Edmonds, Issaquah, Mukilteo and Seattle.
Bainbridge Island's ban also went into effect Thursday.
The forbidden bags fall within specific limits: single-use plastic bags with handles that are thinner than 2.25 mils. A mil is 1/1,000th of an inch.
Stores instead provide standard-sized paper shopping bags with or without handles, with each store required to assess the 5-cent-per-bag “pass-through charge” to each customer who uses the paper bag instead of bringing a reusable one.
Stores are not allowed to provide free standard-sized paper shopping bags, though paper bags of other sizes are not affected by the rule. The rule is meant to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags.
Produce bags are allowed, as are those used to deliver newspapers and protect dry cleaning.
The banned plastic bags, if brought by customers, can be considered reusable bags.
Exemptions also are available to customers who participate in assistance programs. Those who display Electronic Benefits Transfer — or EBT — cards or identification from other programs are not required to pay the bag charge.
“There are many people who literally cannot afford the price of the bags and do not know they are exempt from the charge,” said Vanessa Ridgway, Port Townsend city's legal assistant.
“It's important for us to get the word out about this.”
City officials had hoped to support this effort with the purchase of 10,000 reusable bags for about $10,000 but abandoned the proposal after discovering that lodging tax money could not be used for that purpose.
Instead, a scaled-down proposal to provide 2,500 bags is in the process and has been funded with a $2,500 contribution from DM Disposal in Port Townsend.
The distribution of the bags has not been determined and will be discussed at an upcoming Port Townsend City Council meeting, Ridgway said.
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.