Olympia approves plastic bag ban, focus shifts to Lacey

Staff writerOctober 9, 2013 

Three Thurston County jurisdictions down, five to go.

That’s what proponents of a plastic bag ban are likely thinking after the Olympia City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ban plastic grocery-style bags starting in July, joining Tumwater and unincorporated Thurston County. The matter goes to a final vote, possibly next week, but it will be largely ceremonial.

Now the attention turns to Lacey, which has taken a slower approach to the issue. The city is still studying the matter and looking for ways to get more public comment, said Liz Gotelli, director of public affairs and human resources.

There’s no immediate timeline for considering a ban, but Gotelli said a decision will be made by July, when the other bans go into effect. Putting an advisory vote on the ballot is another possibility.

“Our interest here is really reaching out,” she said.

In Olympia, as in Tumwater and unincorporated Thurston County, the ban will apply to all retailers, but mostly affect supermarkets that use “T-shirt bags.” Shoppers will either have to bring their own reusable bags to stores or pay 5 cents per paper bag. Stores will keep the money to offset their costs.

Other plastic bags, such as the thin bags used for meat or produce and the thicker plastic bags used by department stores, are exempt from the ban. Newspaper bags, doggie bags and dry-cleaning bags are also exempt.

Packages of garbage bags are not part of the ban.

The Thurston County Department of Environmental Health will enforce the ban, said Ron Jones, a program specialist with Olympia’s public works department.

County leaders have been considering a bag ban for a couple of years, concerned that most bags end up as litter or in a landfill. A county advisory committee recommended a model ban that it encouraged all county jurisdictions to adopt, leaving the final decision with them.

Olympia City Council members mostly offered support for the move.

Councilman Nathaniel Jones said the problem with the plastic bags is that “there’s just too many of them.” Thurston County consumes about 90 million bags a year, according to the city staff report.

Jones said that it’s important that other jurisdictions in the county “participate at the same level” in the ban.

Councilwoman Karen Rogers, while voting for the measure, expressed reservations. She said she dislikes using plastic but uses the bags for dogs, traveling and weeding in the yard.

She proposed putting a 10-cent fee on plastic bags to discourage their use. With the ban, she said she would be using more plastic bags.

Councilman Steve Langer disagreed.

“I will not be using more T-shirt bags, and I hope that we can move this on because it’s really late,” Langer said at 11:13 p.m. Tuesday.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869

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