Issaquah to reconsider ban on plastic grocery bags

Seattle banned those thin, plastic grocery bags. So did Shoreline, Bellingham and Edmonds. But at least one city could be going the other direction. (File photo)
Seattle banned those thin, plastic grocery bags. So did Shoreline, Bellingham and Edmonds. But at least one city could be going the other direction. (File photo)

BY Tim Haeck  on October 8, 2013

Seattle banned those thin, plastic grocery bags. So did Shoreline, Bellingham and Edmonds. Olympia is just the latest Washington city to consider a similar restriction. But at least one city could be going the other direction.

In 2012, following the lead of Seattle, the Issaquah City Council voted 5-2 to ban the plastic carry-out bags. The ban took effect last March and former Issaquah city councilmember Mark Mullet says the drop in plastic bag use has been dramatic.

“It’s in the millions, not in the thousands, and that’s just in the city of Issaquah. What happened is people are bringing bags from home and when people buy one or two items from the store, they just carry them out with them.”

Now a state Senator, Mullet said this is a purely environmental issue.

“These bags, they take hundreds of years to decompose so the goal is: don’t use something for 30 seconds and have it sit around for 500 years,” he said. Seattleite Craig Keller called that lazy environmentalism. “The only environment that they’re saving is in their minds. The same plastic lids on the top of their Starbucks cups that they suck constantly are also the same problem.”

Keller is co-founder of Save Our Choice. His answering machine describes the purpose of his campaign this way: “Taking a stand against those on council, hell bent to quote: ‘modify your behavior.'”

Keller and his supporters gathered enough signatures to force the city council to reconsider the plastic bag ban. King County Elections issued a Certificate of Sufficiency for a petition to the Issaquah City Council, which can either adopt the petition and repeal the ban or send the issue to the ballot in the form on an initiative.

The city council has not indicated a time frame for considering the options. The council has until Dec. 27 to notify the county elections office if it wants to put the measure on the February ballot.

“There’s broad support for restoration of consumer and merchant choice,” said Keller. But Mullet thinks the people of Issaquah favor the ban. “We actually held a special city council meeting devoted to one topic and that was plastic bags because we wanted to be sure that the city of Issaquah could give as much input as they wanted and we heard support from the community for supporting the ban.”

Mullet welcomes a vote of the people and thinks it could be an interesting campaign with plastics manufacturers paying special attention.

“I think there’s going to be an industry here that’s going to view this as sort of a battleground and they’re going to put resources in because if they can get it overturned in this city, maybe they feel it will prevent other cities from going down the same path,” reasoned Mullet.

The vote on plastic bags could be the first citizens initiative to make it to the ballot in Issaquah.

Rethinking Plastics Campaign

Consequences of Convenience

Green Sangha,

We’re addicted to plastic, especially plastic bags.
If you are like 95% of US shoppers, whenever you purchase anything, it ends up in a plastic bag.  In the grocery store, most of us put our vegetables and fruits as well as bulk items into single-use plastic produce bags, and all those bags end up in a single-use plastic check-out bag.

Shoppers worldwide are using 500 billion to one trillion single-use plastic bags per year.
This translates to about a million bags every minute across the globe, or 150 bags a year for every person on earth.  And the number is rising.

“But plastic bags are so convenient!”
It depends on how far you are looking.  A plastic bag may be convenient for a minute or two when you carry something out of the store, but consider these costs:

  • Plastic bags are made from a non-renewable resource: oil!
    An estimated 3 million barrels of oil are required to produce the 19 billion plastic bags used annually in California.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
    Plastic manufacturing’s air pollution contributes to “global weirding” (extreme weather of all sorts).
  • Non-biodegradable
    Plastic is food for no one.  It never completely breaks down.
  • Litter
    We see bags hanging on trees, along the roadside, slipping down the storm drain, and floating in the ocean.  Even when we do put them in the garbage, they don’t always make it to the landfill.  47% of landfill blow-away trash is plastic.
  • Toxicity
    Manufacturing plastic releases toxins in the air, as does recycling plastic.  The additives used in plastic are often toxic and can leach into our food.  The surface of plastic is chemically attractive to some of the worst toxins in our environment (e.g., PCBs and pesticide metabolites).
  • Harm to Marine Life
    An estimated 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, one million seabirds, and countless fish worldwide are killed by plastic rubbish each year.
  • Choking the ocean
    Beaches on every continent are littered with plastic scraps and particles.  In a 2008 surface trawl of the North Pacific Gyre, 46 pounds of plastic were found for every pound of zooplankton.
  • We’re eating plastic
    Fine particles of plastic are taken in by filter-feeders in the ocean.  These plastic-laden creatures are then eaten by larger animals and plastics work their way up the food chain, all the way to our seafood menu.

Green Sangha’s Work

Since 2006, our actions have included:

  • Co-leading a successful campaign to ban plastic check-out bags in Fairfax, California
  • Working with markets in the SF Bay Area to reduce or eliminate plastic produce bags, saving an estimated 8 tons of plastic per year
  • Giving over 280 presentations to over 8500 citizens
  • Publishing articles in local newspapers and magazines
  • Showing our plastics display in scores of festivals, conferences, and other public gatherings
  • Testifying before elected councils and boards

What You Can Do

  1. Be the Change
  2. Share
  3. Join the Campaign. Sign up for our Email Newsletter to read about current actions and starting one in your community.
  4. Support Our Work. Donate to help us spread the word and produce more videos, raising awareness and catalyzing real change.

Working Together

Tell us your ideas and wishes for your locality, and we can multiply our results. We can speed the “Great Turning” away from the model of industrial waste and pollution, and instead move toward sustainable communities.