Port Townsend OKs Peninsula’s only plastic bag ban

PORT TOWNSEND — Now that an ordinance forbidding single-use plastic bags in groceries and other stores has been passed by the Port Townsend City Council, the mayor would like the action to be known as more than a plastic-bag ban.

“I would like to see us develop a way to encourage people to use durable containers,” Mayor David King said.

“This should be our legacy.”

The City Council on Monday unanimously approved, on a second reading, the measure that is the only such law to be approved on the North Olympic Peninsula.

It previously was discussed at two meetings of the Special Projects Committee and by the full council June 2.

With the action, Port Townsend becomes the sixth Washington city to pass a similar ordinance, after Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Edmonds, Issaquah, Mukilteo and Seattle.

Seattle’s plastic-bag ban, which was approved in December, went into effect Sunday.

The Port Townsend ordinance will take effect Nov. 2, four months between passage and implementation.

Most of the cities allowed at least six months for education about the plan.

The timing of the Port Townsend ordinance is meant to coincide with the holiday season.

The city immediately will begin its education program, which will include contacting local merchants and helping them conform with the new rules.

Produce bags are allowed, as are those used to deliver newspapers and protect dry cleaning.

And merchants can use up the plastic-bag supply they have on hand, even if it is after the law’s effective date.

The forbidden bags fall within specific limits: They are single-use plastic bags with handles that are thinner than 2.25 mils. A mil is 1/1,000th of an inch.

Stores instead will provide standard-sized paper shopping bags, with or without handles, with each store required to assess a 5-cent-per-bag “pass through charge” to the customer.

Stores won’t be 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.

The banned plastic bags, if brought by customers, can be considered reusable bags.

Merchants also are required to assess the bag charge because a store that does not charge for the bags will have an unfair advantage, officials said.

The store will keep the paper-bag fee to defray the cost of providing the bags.

The cost of the bags will be added onto the customers’ bills.

It is subject to sales tax, though the percentage of that collected by the city is negligible, City Attorney John Watts said.

As part of the effort to encourage reusable bags, city officials are considering the purchase of reusable bags with a city logo that would be distributed free to shoppers.

According to one proposal, the city could purchase 5,000 custom bags made of non-woven polypropylene for $5,450.

The council also discussed paying a portion of the cost of bags manufactured for merchants who would co-brand their bags with the city.

The city will not actively enforce the ban but will respond to complaints of violations.

During the public comment period, local merchant Lois Venarchick, who owns The Bead Store downtown, called the ban “hypocritical” because it did not address the plethora of disposable coffee cups and lids that are littered throughout the area.

Venarchick also was concerned about her current stock of bags, which she purchased at the beginning of 2012 and expected to use for the entire year.

“It’s hard to estimate when this will run out,” Venarchick said.

“Business could slow down, and they could last through next year,” she added.

“I wish you would look at the bigger picture here.”

King told Venarchick that stores will be allowed to use plastic bags purchased prior to the ban.

But he added that she may still have to deal with some inconvenience.

“The enforcement is complaint-based, and someone may complain about your using plastic,” King said.

“The city may then send someone out to investigate.

“You will just have to explain the situation to them.”

The City Council considered the ban after residents presented a petition supporting the idea and discussed it during public comment periods, including an appearance by a “bag monster” — Jude Rubin of Port Townsend — wearing 500 plastic bags meant to represent how many bags are used per person in a calendar year.

Plastic bags adversely affect more than 200 species of marine animals and can’t be recycled effectively, Rubin had told the council.

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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