The Bellingham City Council appears to be ready to pass an ordinance to ban the use of plastic shopping bags at all retailers in the city.
The ordinance cleared the council’s Natural Resources committee on a 4-0 vote Monday afternoon July 11, with Chairman Seth Fleetwood and members Michael Lilliquist, Barry Buchanan and Gene Knutson voting. Two other council members in attendance, Terry Bornemann and Jack Weiss, also indicated their support for the measure.
If the council does approve it, the bag ban would take effect in one year after passage. Besides banning the use of lightweight disposable plastic shopping bags, the ordinance would also require retailers to charge customers five cents for each disposable paper bag they use.
The extra nickels are meant to help retailers cover the higher cost of the paper bags while giving shoppers an incentive to remember their reusable bags.
Under the legal procedure for adopting a new ordinance, the measure must get a second, final vote at another council meeting.
The seven-page ordinance contains a few complexities:
- Low-income people can be exempted from the nickel paper bag fee;
- A store can get a temporary exemption from the law that would be granted by the mayor, if that store can demonstrate a special hardship
- Paper bags provided to shoppers must be made from 40 percent recycled materials;
- Restaurants are still permitted to offer disposable plastic bags for take-out foods.
- Small paper bags can be offered to shoppers for small items, free of charge.
At Monday’s committee session, council member Bornemann praised Brooks Anderson and Jill MacIntyre Witt, leaders of a group called Bag It Bellingham, for proposing the ordinance and undertaking a citywide public education campaign since the ordinance was first suggested in March 2011.
As a result of their efforts, Bornemann said, the initial backlash against the proposal died away and support grew, from retailers as well as shoppers.
“You went and did the work and headed that off,” Bornemann said. “Thanks for doing it the right way.”
Anderson replied that she was aware that the ordinance would need widespread support to be successful.
“We wanted this to be about all of Bellingham,” Anderson said. “We really did work to get the buy-in.”
Knutson noted that Bellingham was a leader in moving to a citywide recycling system more than 20 years ago, and this was another example of Bellingham’s leading role on environmental issues.
The bag ordinance gained some momentum in the last few days after two local supermarket firms, Haggen Food and Pharmacy and The Markets, said they favored the ordinance.
After the meeting, Heather Trim of People for Puget Sound in Seattle said her group expects to launch a new effort to get a plastic bag ban in place in Seattle. An earlier ban that imposed a 20-cent paper bag fee that was sent to the city proved unpopular and was defeated at the polls. Trim said she thinks Bellingham’s approach could be a good model for Seattle to try.
The Bellingham measure will charge just a nickel, and the revenue goes to the retailers, not to the city.
By waiting a year to phase in the ban, Anderson said Bellingham’s law will give retailers plenty of time to use up bags they have already purchased, while giving shoppers time to adjust their expectations.
She noted that retailers have already been taking steps to encourage shoppers to carry reusable bags, because they want to eliminate the cost of providing shopping bags.