Paper or Plastic? Or Maybe Not…

A plastic bag ban for Tacoma? It could happen in 2015.

The Sustainable Tacoma Commission has been exploring the possibility of implementing a plastic bag ban - studying other jurisdictions and the possible implementation and impacts of a ban on single-use plastic bags. Last week the commission brought the discussion to the City Council Infrastructure Planning and Sustainability Committee at its regular meeting.

Arguments in favor of a ban for Tacoma include the negative impact of the single use bags on the environment, Tacoma's goals for reduction of solid waste in the coming years, and the wide availability of alternatives to plastic bags. Supporters point to other jurisdictions like Seattle, where they say implementation has not been bad for business.

Environmental Services staff are also looking at the idea of a plastic ban, saying that it could show up as part of a forthcoming Materials Management Plan. They like the idea, though there are questions about the amount of staff time needed to implement such a policy, versus other possible actions to reduce solid waste in Tacoma. On balance with the amount of staff time to implement such a plan is that it would be a fairly high profile action toward waste reduction.

On the other hand, as was pointed out in last week's discussion, there are concerns about the equity implications of a ban for low-income individuals and families, and those without cars. Staff said they plan to look into those issues, among others before making a recommendation.

Councilmember Mello brought up models from other jurisdictions, where plastic bags are banned at the checkout counter, but plastic bags remain an option in produce and other grocery departments, and paper bags remain available at a nickel or dime charge. The fee charged for those bags goes to provide reusable bags to individuals and families on WIC or other low-income programs. Councilmember Boe brought up the question of whether paper or plastic is better, mentioning European systems that make higher grade plastic bags available at a charge.

The details of a proposal are clearly still being sorted out. If a plan emerges, a possible timeline could include six months of outreach and information gathering, culminating in an implementation process that could see an ordinance adopted sometime in June 2015.

It's not a done deal, but it sounds like we can expect to hear more of this conversation in early 2015, and a ban on single-use plastic bags could be headed to a grocery store near you as early as next summer. Are you on board?


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Comments

Chris

This would be a minor, but good environmental step for Tacoma.  Seattle has had a similar policy in place for years; the sky has not fallen. 

It’s 2014: people probably have a plethora of canvas bags lying around the house nowadays.  The world’s oceans are teeming with plastic waste.  We should all do our part to address the issue.

The Sustainable Tacoma Commission is to be commended for moving this forward.

December 15, 2014 at 10:55 am / Reply / Quote and reply

6 | 3

Just say NO to plastic bags!

I confess I am a strong advocate for the ban on plastic bags!  Especially so for grocery shopping.  This is not simply a convenience issue, it’s an environmental and serious energy mis-use issue.  They are one of the most wasteful products we use.  Grocers’ plastics bags are so cheaply made they barely hold more than 3 or 4 Light-Weight items and require Double bagging.  (don’t get me started on the bag suppliers reduction of quality for profit and the Grocers’ passing on the cost to Consumers food products - how does that serve low-incomers?) My 6 re-usable, Metropolitan Market bags (bought for 99 Cents each) have lasted 5! years and are large and strong enough to hold all of my by-weekly groceries AND are far more easily carried (if walking) than plastic, or paper for that matter.  The equivalent plastic grocer bags, to my 4 (usual) re-usable bags = 24!! plastic bags, this count includes doubled bagged. 
And what do we do with our Plastic Grocer bags once the food is put away?  We throw them away - recycle them or good grief, put them in the garbage.  (Or not, as we often see them floating around or strewn about the road-sides)

Banning plastic bags, is a no brainier by my count.  The real issue, IMO, is Change of habit.  Low-income folks (of which I am one) are resourceful and there are many options for them - a re-usable bag donation option is one of many ideas.

I am definitely IN!

December 15, 2014 at 11:30 am / Reply / Quote and reply

6 | 3

Spencer

This:

http://www.reuseit.com/facts-and-myths/facts-about-the-plastic-bag-pandemic.htm

• The solution is not a plastic bag ban, which is an emotional response which fails to strike at the heart of the issue; instead of a market-based solution, a ban shifts production to paper bags and compostable bags, both of which have heavy environmental consequences.
• The solution is not switching to paper bags or compostable plastic bags. A study on the life cycle of three types of disposable bags (single-use plastic, paper, and compostable plastic) showed that both compostable plastic and paper bags require more material per bag in the manufacturing process. This means “higher consumption of raw materials in the manufacture of the bags…[and] greater energy in bag manufacturing and greater fuel use in the transport of the finished product. ...The added requirements of manufacturing energy and transport for the compostable and paper bag systems far exceed the raw material use in the standard plastic bag system.” (from a peer reviewed Boustead Consulting & Associates report)
• reuseit.com™ supports a multi-pronged approach that discourages the distribution of plastic bags with a tax and a cultural shift away from use-and-toss plastic bags:
    - Plastic Tax: In 2001, Ireland implemented a plastic tax (or PlasTax); the first of its kind, this route acknowledges the fact that people will still occasionally use plastic bags. This market-based   solution discourages daily, thoughtless use of plastic bags by charging a nominal fee per bag at checkout. In a study by the Irish Department of the Environment it was found that plastic bag usage had dropped 93.5%. This breaks down to a drop from 328 to 21 bags per person each year.
    - A cultural shift away from use-and-toss culture: Each reusable bag can eliminate hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic bags.

December 15, 2014 at 11:40 am / Reply / Quote and reply

7 | 1

Jim C

Meh. So we get paper instead of plastic but now we have to pay for the privilege and I have to buy small plastic garbage bags where I never did before.  I already use reuseable grocery bags to the extent possible; what I object to is the city paying business consultants for projects to implement mandates the city has no business coming up with in the first place. If the city wants to ban plastic bags then fine, ban them, but why not let businesses implement their own plans for phasing them out, give them options instead of directives?

December 15, 2014 at 1:01 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

6 | 3

Lowell

If they are serious about accomplishing something to help the environment, they should stop the News Tribune from littering by the ton.  Every week, the TNT distributes advertising bundles that are delivered to street gutters, sidewalks and roadway shoulders all over the county.  There, they sit for weeks and rot.  The remnants eventually get into storm drains and on into Puget Sound.

The only reason this company gets away with it is that they have power over elected officials.  If a company without a newspaper tried this, they’d get fined for illegal dumping.

December 24, 2014 at 9:29 am / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0

Stu

Thurston county asks the customer if they want a plastic bag and then charges 5 cents per bag if they do. Smart. Reduces bag use, helps fill county coffers. Everyone wins.

December 26, 2014 at 8:33 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0

thackerspeedRegistered

If I understand the concern about plastic as a topic of investigation and evaluation by the Tacoma City Council, the real question at issue is the long term viability of the city dump.

Broadly speaking, plastic objects are everywhere. Likewise, potential city dumps are everywhere.

There is no plastic bag crisis in Tacoma. There is no city dump crisis in Tacoma.

 

December 26, 2014 at 9:31 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0

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