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Everett plastic bag ban discussed by City Council

EVERETT — Could Everett become the next city in Washington to ban single-use plastic bags?
A local environmental group hopes so, though the City Council delayed an Oct. 31 vote to study the logistics further at a Nov. 14 committee meeting.
Supporters remain optimistic about bagging council’s approval.
“I don’t know that it will be unanimous, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were,” said Dean Smith, the leader of climate action group 350 Everett.
If approved, the ordinance would prohibit single-use plastic bags at checkout. Rather, shoppers could purchase paper or reusable plastic bags for 5 cents each if they do not bring their own. Stores would keep the charge; the city would mandate the nickel fee at all stores evenly so smaller shops aren’t pinched by having to supply more expensive bags and so chain stores that can absorb the cost can’t use this for a competitive edge.
Low-income patrons on WIC and food stamps would be exempt from the fee.
Some plastic bags would survive the ban. For example, plastic bags for bulk items, meat or fish, frozen foods, take-out food, bakery goods, prescription drugs, dry cleaning, potted plants and newspapers would be allowed.
Packages of plastic bags for food storage, garbage, pet waste and yard waste are also OK, according to the draft.
City attorney Flora Diaz said the draft ordinance mirrors existing bans across the state in cities such as Edmonds and Kirkland. Retailers prefer consistency, she said.
More than 20 jurisdictions in the state passed similar ordinances aimed at reducing the impact of plastics.
“Plastic bags are made of nonrenewable resources and never biodegrade,” the draft ordinance says. “They photo-degrade and can take hundreds of years to break down into tiny toxic bits which can seep into the soil, waterways, lakes and bays, posing a threat to animal life and the natural food chain.”
Pam Kepford, 350 Everett’s secretary, has spearheaded the effort for a reusable bag ordinance in Everett. So far, she’s spoken to a few neighborhood groups and met with council members, she said.
She and about 20 others wore green to show their support at the Oct. 17 council meeting.
“We see the willingness of the council to put the flesh on the bones of the ordinance as a very positive sign,” she said.
At last week’s council meeting, Councilman Scott Murphy asked to keep Everett stores in mind when considering the timeline for the ordinance.
“I can imagine some of these retailers might make purchase orders for these bags a year in advance possibly, so I think we need to make sure we’re giving plenty of notice to the retailers,” he said.
Murphy suggested not taking action Oct. 31, but still moving forward “expeditiously.”
Council members Scott Bader and Jeff Moore agreed.
“I think it also gives us more time for public input and comments, including from retailers and businesses,” Bader said.
Moore suggested studying the cost of public outreach, firming up the requirements of the ordinance and possibly surveying the businesses in Everett before coming to a decision.
During the council’s public comment period, five people spoke in favor of a reusable bag ordinance in Everett. No one voiced opposition.
Heather Trim, the executive director of Zero Waste Washington, said plastic bags represent the No. 1 contaminant in recycling and commercial compost systems.
“We do have a recycling crisis going on now, and helping to remove the large number of carryout bags from the recycling stream and the waste stream will make a really big difference,” Trim said.
Plastic bags tend to catch in recycling equipment and can break the machinery, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Other speakers cited the frequency of plastic bags becoming litter in public spaces, contaminants in water bodies and the death of animals who mistake plastic for food as reasons to do away with single-use plastic bags.
The next discussion will be at the council’s General Government Subcommittee meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, in the City Council Chambers, 3002 Wetmore Ave. A public comment period is available after the committee meeting at the council’s 6:30 p.m. general meeting that night.



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