Following in the footsteps of other local and national jurisdictions, the Kenmore City Council will review a reusable bag policy meant to cut down on plastic waste in the city.
Plastic bags decompose in “500 years to never,” said city management intern Jack Urquhart, who presented the idea to council on June 11. Paper bags, the alternative, take one month, though the city will also encourage reusable bags.
The average American family uses 1,500 plastic bags per year, and only one percent are recycled. Most end up in landfills, storm drains, trees and the ocean, where they have a damaging effect, Urquhart said.
California enacted a statewide ban on plastic bags in 2016, and 18 jurisdictions in Washington have passed legislation to prohibit them. Kenmore may model its ordinance on those adopted in Kirkland or Edmonds, or even Austin or New York City.
In all cases, retailers are banned from providing single-use plastic bags. In Kirkland, shoppers are charged a 5 cent fee if they need to use a paper bag. No fee is charged in Edmonds, but that doesn’t provide an incentive to use reusable bags, Urquhart said.
The policies in Austin and New York are more strict. The Texas city has banned single use bags entirely, while in the Big Apple, shoppers are charged a fee for all single-use carryout bags — 10 cents for plastic, 5 cents for paper.
Kenmore is most likely to adopt an ordinance similar to Kirkland’s, which is recommended by the organization Zero Waste Washington. It may include exemptions for compostable bags, low-income program customers or small stores.
Council member Brent Smith said the policy would provide “an economic incentive to do the right thing.”
According to the council’s agenda bill, paper bags can also hold more items; “anywhere from 50 percent to 400 percent more, depending on how they’re packed.”
But there are drawbacks: manufacturing paper emits 80 percent more greenhouse gases and consumes four times as much energy as making a plastic bag. It takes three reuses of a paper bag to neutralize its environmental impact, relative to plastic. Reusable bags also have higher carbon footprints.
Opponents of plastic bag bans also point to adverse effects on local businesses and industry, compliance issues and limited environmental impact as reasons not to implement them.
Zero Waste Washington advocates for minimal enforcement, including the use of letters instead of fines to address non-compliance issues.
But paper bags are also recycled more easily, and produced from a renewable resource (trees), while plastic bags are produced from a nonrenewable resource (polyethylene). Used enough, reusable bags compensate for their production costs, according to the agenda bill.
During public comment, a Kenmore resident asked if council would consider a ban on plastic straws as well, a concept that was recently brought to the cities of Kirkland, Redmond and Shoreline.
With consensus to proceed, council will continue the discussion when the ordinance is brought back for its review.
See www.kenmorewa.gov for more.