After concerns raised by residents, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph on March 20 suspended enforcement of the city’s single-use plastic bag ban during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Many residents have shared their concerns in recent days regarding the city of Kent’s plastic bag ban and the associated risks of reusable bags in spreading COVID-19.” Ralph said in a statement on the city’s Facebook page.
City staff worked with the Washington State Grocers Association to find a solution during this crisis.
“In an abundance of caution for resident and worker safety, we will suspend the enforcement of the plastic bag ban during the declaration of emergency for COVID-19,” Ralph said. “This will enable residents to pause the use of reusable bags. It will also allow retailers to use whatever bags they can obtain to bag the supplies and groceries our residents need in a timely manner.”
This suspension of the enforcement of this ordinance will last until Ralph withdraws the declaration of the state of emergency.
“We are calling on retailers to not charge 8 cents for the bags they provide to customers during this time.” Ralph said.
After the city suspended the ban, more residents reached out to city staff on the weekend to report that many stores were still charging for bags. City staff noted on Facebook that emails and postcards were sent to the stores.
“It still will take them some time to adjust their policy, point of sales systems and to communicate it to hundreds of staff members,” according to the city’s Facebook post on Saturday.
Ralph also spent Saturday morning calling the manager of each major box retailer in the city, including Target, both Fred Meyers, Safeway locations, Winco, McClendons and QFC.
The city plastic bag ban began on March 1.
The Legislature passed a statewide plastic bag ban in March that awaits the governor’s signature. That ban begins January 2021.
Leanne Shirey was one of the residents who sent an email to the Kent City Council asking to lift the ban.
“I am excited that they have taken this step,” Shirey said in a March 20 mail to the Kent Reporter. “However, I believe it should have gone further and directed the stores to stop allowing reusable bags and food containers being brought in/used in the stores/food establishments.”
Shirey also sent a copy of the email she sent to the city to the Kent Reporter. Here is a portion of that email:
“In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, I am begging the city of Kent to suspend this law,” Shirey wrote. “Further, the stores should mandate that no outside bags would be allowed for use in the store. This could significantly slow the spread of the virus in the one place that we all have to use – the grocery store.
“Even before this pandemic, studies showed that only 3% of people washed their bags at all. Also, further testing showed that spraying the bags did not disinfect them, as there are too many nooks and crannies the sprays/wipes missed. To add another problem, most grocery store belts are porous rubber. The testing found that even with cleaning, the porous nature of the material prevented them from being sanitized. These facts lead to a perfect storm in relation to COVID-19.
“I know that all of you are working hard to protect us, so I am asking that the city will lead the way by issuing a ban on reusable bags in the stores and order businesses to provide the paper or plastic bags to customers without charge immediately.”