City by city, plastic bag bans gaining momentum

Feb 15, 2012

A plastic bag ban ordinance modeled after the ones already passed in Bellingham and Seattle is on the agenda of two suburban Puget Sound cities this week.

Bainbridge Island’s council is holding a public hearing on the issue tonight (Wednesday, 5:30 pm.) The hearing can be monitored via webcast.

And a committee at the City of Issaquah takes up the issue Thursday evening.

The American Chemistry Association and their affiliates argue that instead of a ban, the solution is recycling. That group helped defeat a 2009 ballot measure to charge a 20-cent fee for plastic bags in Seattle.

Seattle's city council passed a simpler measure last December, that puts less of a burden on independent grocery chains.

The hearings come in the wake of a new report by the group, Environment Washington, entitled Why Recycling Can’t Solve the Plastic Bag Problem. 

It details the way the flimsy plastic film most of the bags are made of gets caught in the machinery at recycling plants, mangling public equipment.

Other highlights from the report:

  • Less than 5 percent of plastic bags are actually recycled.
  • Every year, Washingtonians use more than 2 billion plastic bags.
  • According to the EPA, only 4.3 percent of all plastic bags in the US were recycled in 2010, down almost 2 percent from the previous year.
  • Plastic production has outpaced recycling for the past 50 years.
  • Curbside recycling in some of Washington’s cities allows the inclusion of plastic bags in mixed recyclables but this actually causes problems in the recycling facilities. 
  • Over half of Washington’s recycling facilities do not even accept plastic bags.  For those facilities, 83% reported that their recycling stream was contaminated with plastic bags and it was causing problems.
  • Some recycling plants in Washington estimate spending 20 to 30 percent of their labor costs removing plastic bags from their machinery – on the order of $1,000 per day.

That’s why most major grocery chains will now take back the bags and have set up special receptacles near their entryways, accepting plastics from other stores as well…and why many public utilities are no longer accepting them in recycling bins.

Efforts for a statewide ban continue, but a bill introduced this year by State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon did not make it out of committee.