Port Angeles prepares for new plastic bag law

PORT ANGELES — City officials say they are helping businesses prepare for the “Bring Your Own Bag” law, in which thin plastic carry-out bags will be banned at Port Angeles retail stores effective July 2.

Stores within the city will be required to charge at least a nickel for any bag provided at checkout beginning on that date.

Paper bags must be recyclable, and thin-film plastic bags common at grocery store checkout lines will be prohibited under a new ordinance that the City Council approved by 4-3 vote April 3.

To help stores make the transition, city staff drafted a list of frequently asked questions about the new initiative.

The City Council on Tuesday directed staff to distribute the FAQs along with a letter and flyer to the 1,900 commercial utility customers within the city.

“We want to make sure that people are capable of dealing with this change,” City Councilman Mike French said at the meeting.

“It is a big change, but I was very impressed with the frequently asked questions and the flyer as well. I thought that they were done extremely well.”

The goal of the plastic bag law is to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags to help reduce waste and protect the marine environment.

The ordinance was drafted by City Councilman Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin. It was largely based on Tacoma’s plastic bag law.

More than a dozen cities in Western Washington, including Port Townsend, have enacted similar laws.

Voting in favor of the Port Angeles ordinance April 3 were council members Schromen-Wawrin, French, Mayor Sissi Bruch and Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter.

Voting again the measure were council members Cherie Kidd, Jim Moran and Michael Merideth. Merideth said he supported a ban on plastic bags but was opposed to the 5-cent minimum charge.

The 5-cent fee will be kept by the retailer to cover the cost of providing recycled paper bags or more expensive reusable fabric bags. The law is meant to be an incentive for customers to bring their own bags to avoid the fee.

Plastic bags more than 2.25 mils — or thousandths of an inch — thick can be provided at checkout as long as the customer pays the fee.

Customers on low-income food programs are exempt from the charge. Retailers can apply for an exemption to the law if they can show it would cause an undue hardship.

Restaurants and delis can still provide thin-film plastic bags for takeout food to safeguard public health, according to the ordinance and FAQs.

“Boy, have we created a lot of confusion in Port Angeles,” Kidd said at the meeting.

“People don’t know what’s happening with the plastic bags. I get questions everywhere I go.”

Kidd questioned why the city didn’t follow Tacoma’s lead and provide a one-year grace period.

The original Port Angeles ordinance would have gone into effect 30 days after adoption. The council decided last month to allow a three-month grace period at French’s suggestion.

Kidd said the Port Angeles ordinance was “rushed” and would likely result in a “rough landing.”

“We don’t have a Department of Bags to contact everyone,” Kidd said.

“We have a couple of thousand retailers who are wondering what’s going on and when. And everywhere I go, I get questions.”

To help assuage the concerns of store owners and managers, the city assigned Solid Waste Collections Coordinator Bruce Dorcy to be the point of contact for the plastic bag law. He can be reached at 360-417-4876 or [email protected]

Dorcy has a background in the grocery industry, City Manager Dan McKeen said.

“Since adoption, staff has received multiple questions concerning the ordinance, and we believe the best way to interpret the ordinance and answer the questions is to create and distribute a frequently asked questions sheet,” McKeen said.

“We also will be proving information on our city’s website [www.cityofpa.us] to help both the consumers and the retailers with this.”

Members of the Port Angeles Plastic Reduction Coalition and area youth implored the City Council to enact a plastic bag law late last year and earlier this year. The City Council held three public hearings on the proposal, with a solid majority of the testimony in support.

Moran polled his fellow council members Tuesday on whether they would consider a six-month delay to the implementation of the plastic bag law.

“I’m not making the motion, Madam Mayor,” Moran told Bruch. “I’m just asking for input from the rest of the council about what your feelings on that are.”

Dexter said a six-month delay likely would lead to confusion.

“I would second that about changing the date,” Bruch said.

“I would prefer not to do that, especially because I have not gotten any feedback that it’s been confusing.”

Bruch and other council members said the feedback they had received on the bag law had been overwhelmingly positive.

“I’m very open-minded that people have different feedback to provide,” French said. “But so far, the feedback that I’ve got has been exclusively positive.”

Despite her reservations about the ordinance, Kidd agreed that the FAQ sheet was “well done.”

“We’ll be mailing them out,” McKeen said. “I just want to make sure the council was onboard.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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