Single-use plastic carryout bags to be banned in Bothell starting April 2020

Plastic bags that don’t have accessible alternatives are exempt.

Bothell is doubling down on plastic bag restrictions.

At its Nov. 19 meeting, the city council unanimously passed (Councilmember Jeanne Zornes was absent) an ordinance that prohibits single-use plastic carryout bags at all commercial retailers in the area, with some exceptions.

The ban will take effect in April.

“I’ve been waiting for this for about eight years,” Councilmember Tom Agnew said.

The ordinance was proposed at the meeting by Emily Wamock, a public works sustainability assistant. The ordinance looks to prevent the negative ecological, waste and health impacts single-use plastic carryout bags present.

According to Wamock, Washingtonians use about 2 billion of the limited-use bags every year, with retailers nationwide spending up to $4 billion to provide them to customers.

“Between the sheer amount that we’re seeing and the short amount of time that they’re being used, it’s easy to see how much of a burden they’re placing on our solid waste system,” Wamock said.

The ordinance is in part a response to King County’s recent decision to disallow plastic bags and film in recycling containers — a resolution that starts in January. Currently, both the Snohomish and King county portions of Bothell are managed under King County’s solid waste disposal system.

King County’s new rule has to do with the fact that plastic bags and film frequently get tangled in machinery (which can slow down the sorting process) and that they frequently contaminate other recyclables. The ordinance is meant to help mitigate the problem.

“With recycling restrictions tightening so significantly on the allowable amount of contaminants by material processors, it is taking far more time and it will be affecting the cost of the customers in the long run,” Wamock said.

She added that while there are currently a handful of single-use plastic bag take-back locations in the area, only an estimated one percent of plastic is recycled through the mechanism.

Plastic bags also pose harmful environmental effects. According to Wamock, bags and film are so easily transported by wind and water that they lead to increased litter in parks, open spaces and waterways. About 100,000 marine animals die every year as a result of plastic bags impacting their environments.

Plastic bags additionally do not fully biodegrade. Instead, they break into progressively smaller pieces over time — a cycle that can lead to higher cancer rates and disruption to the human endocrine system.

Before bringing the ordinance proposal to the council, Wamock said that public works looked at community and business feedback voiced at council meetings or on a recently released community survey.

The latter forum garnered 766 responses. Seventy-four percent of community members supported single-use plastic bag restrictions. Twenty-six percent opposed them. Typically, those who were against the ordinance were concerned about pet waste — something Wamock said will be a point of education in public outreach attempts down the road. Outreach will be conducted through social media and popular events like the recent tree-lighting festival in Bothell.

Some types of plastic bags are exempt from the ordinance, usually because of a lack of current alternatives. Exemptions include bags used for bulk items (like spices and grains), bags sold in packages (like sandwich and garbage bags) and bags used for damp items (like dry cleaning and meats). Nonprofits that receive food and clothing donations in plastic bags are also exempted from the ordinance since public works staff does not want to dissuade people from giving items to local organizations.

Once the plastic bags have been banned from commercial retail businesses in Bothell, paper bags will be available at a $0.10 charge. While the $0.10 will go back to the business, Wamock said that the charge is there not for financial purposes per se, but more so to incentivize customers to bring reusable bags in the future.

She noted that if someone makes a purchase with a voucher, gift card or electronic-benefits card and would like to use a paper bag, they will not be charged the additional 10 cents. After Seattle passed similar plastic-bag restrictions, Wamock said, there was a decrease in paper-bag use as well.

Councilmembers had some questions revolving around exemptions and how the proposal compares to other cities but was ultimately supportive of the ordinance.

“I look forward to continuing to find ways to become environmentally friendly,” councilmember James McNeal said.

By passing the ordinance, Bothell joins 35 other jurisdictions in Washington that have approved a similar ban, including the cities of Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, Kirkland and Everett.

For background on the ordinance, go to the meeting agenda item. To watch the full conversation around the ordinance, watch the Nov. 19 council meeting recording.