Port Angeles council tables plastic bag ban

Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin

Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin

PORT ANGELES — City lawmakers have tabled a proposal to ban single-use plastic bags in Port Angeles.

The City Council was considering two versions of a plastic bag policy Tuesday, one of which would require grocery stores to charge customers at least a nickel for a recycled paper bag at checkout.

Councilman Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin floated a third option Tuesday, a “fee/ban hybrid” that would include a 5 cent minimum fee for all carryout bags except thin plastic bags, which would be prohibited.

“I think it provides very clear instructions,” Schromen-Wawrin said of his “Version C” draft.

“It’s basically a minimum 5 cent fee for any bag given at carryout or through home delivery,” he said.

The home delivery provision is in anticipation of more ordering groceries to be delivered to their homes.

The council is expected to take action on a plastic bag policy after holding a third public hearing on the issue April 3.

More than a dozen Western Washington jurisdictions, including Port Townsend, have adopted ordinances that restrict merchants from distributing single-use plastic bags at checkout.

The idea is to encourage conservation and reduce plastic pollution by creating incentives for shoppers bringing their own reusable bags.

Versions A and B of the Port Angeles ordinance were based on Bellingham’s plastic bag law.

Version B does not impose a mandatory charge for paper bags.

Schromen-Wawrin said his draft is similar to Version A but eliminates a loophole that would allow a vendor to thicken plastic bags to 2.25 mils, or thousandths of an inch, and “proceed with business as usual.”

A second provision in Schromen-Wawrin’s proposal eliminates the thin film, non-compostable plastic bags that “basically becomes pollution as soon as it gets home,” he said.

“The goal is there’s a fee,” Schromen-Wawrin said.

“Whatever the bag is, you pay for the bag.”

Schromen-Wawrin’s draft retains exemptions for shoppers on low-income food assistance programs and a penalty provision in the Bellingham law that includes a fine of up to $250 for stores in violation.

“I know that people have spoken against that,” Schromen-Wawrin said of the fine.

“I really do think that the penalty provision is the most practical way to give an ordinance that protects health, safety and welfare actual teeth and make it workable.”

Schromen-Wawrin, an attorney and one of four first-year council members, emailed his draft to the rest of the council Tuesday morning.

His motion to adopt Version C died for a lack of a second.

Several council members objected to a new policy being considered before the public has a chance to review the ordinance and weigh in.

“To fee or not to fee is not the question,” Councilman Jim Moran told Schromen-Wawrin.

“The question is do we give the public the opportunity to review your revision and then comment on it?”

Third-term council member Cherie Kidd said new ordinances should be published with the rest of the council packet. Council packets are published on the city’s website several days before each meeting.

“This lacks transparency for the council and the public,” Kidd said.

“If we move this forward, or even all three [versions], to the next council meeting that would be appropriate.

“I think if we do all three then we can have a thorough discussion and we won’t have confusion,” Kidd added.

“Right now, we have confusion.”

Later in the meeting, the council voted 7-0 to approve Schromen-Wawrin’s motion to table the plastic bag policy, add Version C to the council packet, send an email alert and extend a third public hearing to the next council meeting April 3.

Councilman Mike French said Schromen-Wawrin’s proposal “follows a lot of the spirit of the previous two ordinances.”

“I think it’s a very good rewrite of the ordinance, and I would love to have a discussion about it,” French said.

Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter said there were no substantive changes in Version C.

“I want to clarify that in my opinion, this wasn’t an attempt to get something passed without the public seeing it that included something that would be different substantially than what we had already addressed,” Dexter said.

“But I’m perfectly OK with publishing it, allowing the public to read it and having another public comment period.”

Representatives of the Port Angeles Plastic Reduction Coalition urged the council to ban single-use plastic bags Feb. 6.

A first reading and public hearing on Version A was held March 6.

Seven of nine speakers who testified in the second public hearing Tuesday spoke in favor of a ban on single-use plastic bags. Two speakers took no position on the ordinances and suggested other ways to promote conservation.

“As a cyclist, I get to see lots of garbage on the side of the road, and it just astounds me that people are still throwing stuff out their windows,” said Randall McCoy, chairman of the Bicycle Advisory Committee of Port Angeles and Clallam County.

“If we can reduce what they can throw out their window, that I think would be a wonderful thing.”

Judith Broadhurst said she lived in Santa Cruz County, Calif., when plastic bags were banned there seven years ago.

She said the fee charged for paper bags — first 10 cents and later 25 cents — was a good incentive for people to remember to bring reusable bags to the grocery store.

“It really just became a non-issue entirely because none of the stores ever charged it,” Broadhurst said.

“A lot of people groused about the inconvenience. That was the biggest issue.

“But by six months, it was like ‘Why didn’t we do this before?’ ” Broadhurst added.

“Everybody took a great deal of pride in it, that we had taken a stand for our environment, and it was just kind of a non-issue.”

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

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