Kent City Council to consider plastic bag ban

Vote scheduled for Aug. 20 meeting

A plastic bag ban could be coming to Kent in March.

The City Council, at its 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20 meeting, will consider an ordinance to ban distribution of carryout plastic bags at retail outlets. The council’s Public Works Committee voted 2-0 on Monday to send the measure to the full seven-member council.

The council decided last year to consider approval of a ban this year if the state Legislature didn’t pass a ban. The proposal in Olympia by Sen. Mona Das, D-Kent, received approval from the Senate but didn’t go to a vote in the House.

More than 30 jurisdictions in the state have plastic bag bans, including Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Kirkland and Olympia.

“The state didn’t take action and for most cities that’s very unfortunate because it costs cities time and money to put together ordinance,” Councilmember Toni Troutner said at the committee meeting. “I think there is better use of our time than this but we are moving forward with it.”

Tony Donati, city Public Works conservation coordinator, told the committee that staff has been working on an ordinance at the council’s request since the Legislature failed to pass a measure.

The plastic bags cause litter in streets and rivers as well as clog storm drains, Donati said. He added the bags also cause problems at recycling facilities because they jam sorting machines.

“To get rid of them saves a lot of headache,” Donati said. “And the bag ordinance is working really well around the country. California and Hawaii have bans and their litter is down.”

The 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 proposed ordinance.

An estimated 380 billion plastic bags and wraps are consumed in the United States each year while only about 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“It is the city’s desire to conserve resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, waste, litter and marine pollution and to protect the public health and welfare, including wildlife, all of which increase the quality of life for the city’s residents,” according to the ordinance.

People are encouraged to use reusable bags while shopping. Stores will charge customers 8 cents per paper bag under the proposed ordinance if shoppers want a bag to carry items. The fees help stores offset the paper bag costs.

Kent’s proposed ban, as with most bans, exempts plastic bags used for produce, meats, flowers and other items.

One part of the measure expected to be debated at the council meeting is whether the 8 cents per paper bag charge should apply to people on food assistance programs.

Staff prepared an ordinance to the committee that everyone would pay the fee, but Councilmember Brenda Fincher asked that the staff also prepare a measure that exempts people on food assistance programs from paying the fee for a paper bag.

“I believe people who are low income and already struggling to pay for food, to have them pay for that bag doesn’t have to be done,” Fincher said.

Most of the bans in other cities do not charge a fee to people on food assistance programs.

“We should put that language in the ordinance to match the other cities,” Fincher said.

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