Kent became the 30th jurisdiction in the state to adopt a plastic bag ban ordinance with a 7-0 City Council vote on Tuesday night.
The ban against distribution of carryout plastic bags at retail outlets will start in March.
Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Kirkland and Olympia are among the cities that have banned plastic bags.
People will be encouraged to bring reusable bags when shopping or pay 8 cents per paper bag under the city ordinance. The fee helps stores offset the paper bag costs. Plastic bags used for produce, meats, flowers and other items still will be allowed.
“It’s commonsense, it’s bigger than us,” Council President Bill Boyce said. “I prefer to have it done at the state level, but it is our responsibility to do the right thing. There is enough data out there that plastic is harming us.”
The council agreed last year to consider approval of a ban this year if the state Legislature didn’t pass a ban. A ban proposal in Olympia earlier this year by Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, received approval from the Senate but didn’t go to a vote in the House.
Plastic bags do not biodegrade and can take hundreds of years to break down into small toxic particles, which can seep into the soil, waterways, lakes and bays and pose a threat to animal life and the natural food chain, according to the city’s ordinance.
Plastic bags also cause litter in streets and rivers as well as clog storm drains, said Tony Donati, city Public Works conservation coordinator, at a council committee meeting two weeks ago. He added the bags cause problems at recycling facilities because they jam sorting machines.
“We are strongly in support of the ordinance that is before you,” said Holly Chisa, a representative of the Northwest Grocery Association on behalf of Safeway, QFC, Fred Meyer and other stores.
Chisa said the city of Port Orchard became the 29th jurisdiction to ban plastic bags earlier Tuesday evening.
Nine people spoke in favor of the ban and one opposed it during the public comment period of the council meeting prior to the vote.
“Adopting a reusable bag ordinance is caring for yourself, your family, your friends, your community and for the greater good,” said Abbe Gloor, of Kent, who dressed up in plastic bags four years ago in front of the council to propose a plastic bag ban.
“I recall the bag lady showing up four years ago, and it went in one ear and out of the other ear, but we have evolved,” Boyce said prior to the vote.
The only debate among the council was whether the 8 cents per paper bag charge should apply to people on food assistance programs. All other jurisdictions have passed ordinances that exempt low-income residents from paying the fee.
“We need to be in alignment with the rest,” Councilmember Dennis Higgins said. “If Kent passes a different ordinance, we would have to come back and do something different, if or when the state passes theirs.”
Councilmember Toni Troutner preferred a fee for all.
“I am very disappointed we are not going with option number one,” said Troutner, who still supported the ban. “It affects the birds, it’s filling up our oceans, plastic is causing pollution, all of the comments tell me there needs to be a ban on plastics. We need the ban for everyone.”
Troutner added that people on food assistance programs could bring reusable bags in order to avoid paying a bag fee.
Mayor Dana Ralph, who doesn’t have a vote on council matters, said after the vote she preferred the option to charge a fee for everyone.
“The ordinance talks about encouraging greater use of reusable bags,” Ralph said. “I do wish we were encouraging reusable bag use in our entire community
and not just a select population, which is what I feel like option number two does. Personal opinion there, just want to throw that out.”
A Tacoma resident told the council that the city had a free distribution of reusable bags to people on food assistance programs when it started its ban, even though Tacoma’s ordinance allowed those customers to get bags for free.