PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council may consider banning plastic bags next year to help protect the environment.
Five of the seven council members agreed Tuesday to discuss at a future meeting a prohibition of plastic bags at stores in the city.
The discussion was prompted by two young girls who raised concerns about plastic bags during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“We have consensus right now to get it on the schedule, so please make sure it gets in there in January,” Councilwoman Sissi Bruch told city staff.
Council members Brad Collins, Dan Gase, Lee Whetham and Mayor Patrick Downie will be replaced by new members in early January.
The decision of whether to ban plastic bags will be made by Bruch, Michael Merideth, Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd and newly elected council members Kate Dexter, Mike French, Jim Moran and Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin.
“This is going to be very controversial in the community,” Gase said.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s right for us to start this just before four of us leave and quite frankly dump it on a bunch of new guys.”
An ordinance to restrict plastic bags would require two public hearings and at least two readings, City Manager Dan McKeen told the council.
“It really does make sense to bring it up with the new council after the first of the year,” McKeen said.
At least 13 cities, including Port Townsend, have adopted restrictions on merchants’ use of plastic bags, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center.
Port Townsend in 2012 joined early adopters Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Edmonds, Issaquah, Mukilteo and Seattle when its council restricted single-use plastic bags in groceries and other stores.
Kirkland, Lacey, Olympia, Shoreline, Tacoma, Tumwater and Thurston County have adopted similar laws in recent years, according to the MRSC.
“I am in favor of this,” Bruch said.
“I know I brought this up before and it got resoundingly brought down. But now, a lot of communities are doing it, and they are doing it for a reason.”
Plastic bags are harmful to the environment and take much longer to decompose than paper, Bruch said.
“The problem is not getting better. It’s getting worse,” Merideth said.
“I’ve said before, you go to the grocery store, you end up with 10 bags.
“You go to Walmart, you get one item in each bag,” Merideth added. “You go to Safeway, you get a couple items in that bag, a couple items in that bag and those items get triple-bagged.”
Collins recalled a debate when he arrived in Port Angeles in 1989 about whether the city would remain a timber town.
“I for one believe we should continue to be a timber town, and we should make paper bags out of that timber,” Collins said. “I fully support the idea of bring-your-bag.”
Gase and Kidd were opposed to a further discussion on a plastic bag prohibition.
“I don’t want to start getting into the lives of people’s grocery shopping and retail [shopping] and telling them how they have to do things,” Gase said.
“I would like to see a lack of plastic bags out there, but I don’t believe that it’s the city of Port Angeles’ position that we should be getting into their lives, other than perhaps helping with education to try to make them more environmentally concerned, but not to try to force it.”
Kidd said she would be opposed to the city using the “heavy hammer of the law” to address the issue.
“It’s an educational process,” Kidd said. “We have bright citizens. We have citizens who are concerned about our environment.
“So let’s have the education, let’s be good role models and let’s let the people take care of this issue,” Kidd added. “It doesn’t have to be a legislative issue.”
Whetham said he shared sentiments from “both sides of the fence.”
He recalled a day when he went to a community dump when he was working in Alaska about 10 years ago.
“It was something that I’ll never forget: garbage bag trees,” Whetham said.
“On every limb off the fir trees surrounding this garbage dump were plastic bags fluttering in the wind to no end in sight.
“That did make a lasting impression,” Whetham added. “So I’d like to hear further about this.”
Collins suggested that the council go beyond the public hearing process to gather citizen input on a plastic bag prohibition.
“I definitely think it’s something that deserves some broad public debate,” Collins said.
“It’s not something that should be decided by seven council people, either this seven or the next seven or whatever.
“The pubic should weigh in on how they feel about this,” Collins added. “I think you need to have a town meeting.”
Dexter and Schromen-Wawrin were asked at the forum whether they would support a citywide ban on plastic bags at a League of Women Voters forum Oct. 11.
Dexter said she would support a plastic bag ban.
Schromen-Wawrin did not answer the question directly, saying: “I don’t see a reason why the city couldn’t help to encourage cleaning up that form of pollution.”
Schromen-Wawrin clarified his position in an Oct. 14 email to the Peninsula Daily News.
“I haven’t researched the full scope of the plastic bag ban policy, so it is possible that stakeholders may bring forward issues that show the policy is not a good idea,” Schromen-Wawrin wrote.
“I’m not aware of any such issues at this time.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at email@example.com.