PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council has conducted a first reading on a proposal to ban single-use plastic bags at stores within the city.
A 5-2 majority of the council said Tuesday they were inclined to support a revised version of the ordinance when it comes to a vote later this month.
The council will conduct a second public hearing on the plastic bag ordinance before taking action March 20.
The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. or soon thereafter in the City Council chambers at City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St.
“I want to thank the people who organized around this, and I look forward to seeing this go into effect slowly and gently,” Councilman Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said during a 90-minute policy debate.
Members of the Port Angeles Plastic Reduction Coalition urged a city ban on plastic carryout bags at the council’s Feb. 6 meeting.
The idea is to encourage reusable cloth bags or recycled paper bags to reduce litter and the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans and food web.
Fourteen jurisdictions in the state, including Port Townsend, have adopted ordinances that restrict merchants from distributing single-use plastic bags at checkout.
The Port Angeles ordinance was based largely on the city of Bellingham’s plastic bag law, City Attorney Bill Bloor said.
Council members Schromen-Wawrin, Mike French, Michael Merideth, Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter and Mayor Sissi Bruch said they would support a plastic bag prohibition in Port Angeles.
Council members Cherie Kidd and Jim Moran were opposed, saying in part that it was not the council’s purview to tell businesses how to operate.
Several council members and public speakers suggested ways to improve the draft ordinance.
A revised version of the ordinance will be posted on the city’s website at https://www.cityofpa.us/ by late Monday, City Manager Dan McKeen said.
The current draft states that recycled paper bags can be provided to customers with a “reasonable pass-through” charge of at least 5 cents.
Stores that violate the city law would be subject to a fine of up to $250.
Grocery stores and other retailers could petition for a one-year exemption to the ordinance.
Shoppers on low-income programs such as Women, Infant and Children would be exempt from the nickle-per-paper-bag charge.
Twelve of the 18 speakers who testified in a public hearing Tuesday spoke in favor of a prohibition on single-use plastic carryout bags.
“I think this is a really low burden on the community in the sense that I think people will quickly adjust their habits,” said Dr. Christopher Frank, Clallam County public health officer.
“I think this is really a common sense public policy nudge that fixes a problem. It also hopefully sets the groundwork for other policy nudges that maybe we could do in the future that would improve public health and the environment.”
Three speakers said they were opposed to a plastic bag prohibition.
Three others made suggestions for how to improve on the current draft.
“I think we all have an obligation to think very hard about something that lives 100 years,” Muazzez Eren said of plastic bags.
“Most of us don’t live 100 years.”
Eren urged the council to follow the suggestion on enforcement made by Heather Trim, Zero Waste Washington executive director .
Trim suggested at the Feb. 6 council meeting that the city use “minimal enforcement” at the outset to let businesses and the public get acclimated to the law.
“As far as enforcement, I do agree with the slow process,” French said.
Marloee Smith of Port Angeles recommended that the city take a cue from Berkeley, Calif., and offer a 5-cent credit to those who bring a reusable bag or paper to grocery stores.
“We’re a community that doesn’t have a lot of extra resources,” Smith said.
“If I can bring my own bag and get 5 cents, and I bring 10 bags and I get 50 cents, that’s wonderful. It offsets the cost of the groceries.”
Dexter said there was merit to Smith’s suggestion.
“In all the stores that I’ve shopped in where you get a credit, they generally pass that credit on to local charitable organizations, which is kind of a cool idea, I think,” Dexter said.
Council members directed staff to gather input from local grocery stores before the ordinance is finalized.
Schromen-Wawrin said plastic bags tend to become trash soon after they are distributed to customers.
He added that the proposal would have little impact on shoppers.
“You’re still free to bring single-use plastic bags to the store and check out with them,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“So carry on with that if you want. In terms of enforcement, we’re really talking about retail stores for the most part.”
Kidd countered that free plastic bags are important to some. She read a letter from a disabled elderly woman who uses plastic bags for the disposal of cat litter and incontinence garments.
“She said she struggles with her income and doesn’t want another cost at the grocery store,” Kidd said.
Kidd took umbrage with Zero Waste Washington’s claim that the 5-cent pass-through is not a tax but a fee.
“There’s no difference,” Kidd said.
“You call it a tax, you call it a fee, but you are imposing an additional cost on every citizens for every trip to the grocery store, and that hurts the poorest citizens the most.”
Kidd added that she was opposed to threatening stores with a $250 fine.
“I think that’s anti-business,” Kidd said.
“I think Sequim should be cheering, because I think we may be shifting some of our business to the Sequim area. I really don’t think we should be threatening our business with a fine.”
Merideth said he, too, was “not a fan” of the $250 fine but supported a ban on single-use plastic bags.
“Folks are not recycling I think anywhere near the amount of plastic bags that go out of those stores,” Merideth said.
“There are (plastic bag recycling) containers at Safeway. There are containers at Walmart. I don’t see them overflowing.”
The Port Townsend City Council restricted single-use plastic bags in 2012, joining early adopters Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Edmonds, Issaquah, Mukilteo and Seattle.
Kirkland, Lacey, Olympia, Shoreline, Tacoma, Tumwater and Thurston County have since adopted plastic bag laws in recent years, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center.
“I’d be surprised if Sequim’s not in line next for this,” Meredith said. “This is growing more and more.”
Moran listed several ways that people can recycle, saying he favored an “education process in our school system and in our community” to an outright prohibition.
He noted that the state already has an anti-litter law.
“What makes us think that adding another ordinance to the already existing state laws will clean up our city any more than it already has been?” Moran asked.
“You know, you either have self-respect and civic pride or you don’t. No amount of legislation is going to give that to you.”
The current draft of the plastic bag law is available on the city’s website. Click on “Your Government,” “City Council,” “Most Recent Agenda” and the “Pre-Meeting” for March 6. The proposal begins on page 100 of the 221-page packet.
“From my standpoint, I totally support this (ordinance) and do agree it needs some clean up,” Bruch said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].