The City Council voted 7-0 on Monday to make plastic grocery bags illegal beginning Jan. 1, 2013.
The ban, similar to laws approved in Edmonds and Bellingham, makes exceptions for several types of bags. Those used for meat, bulk foods and vegetables at stores, and for newspapers, door hangers and pet waste are among those that would be allowed.
"This is a small activity," City Councilman Randy Lord said of the vote, "but it is a large statement."
Plastic bags consume more resources and produce more waste than reusable bags and cause more problems than paper bags because they require oil to produce, take years to break down and pose a hazard to marine life, according to city research on the issue.
The group Environment Washington praised the city for the vote. The group says it should reduce pollution and help prevent bags from ending up in the belly of a whale, like one found dead last year at West Seattle.
It's estimated that every American household uses between 520 and 1,000 bags per year, but the national recycling rate for plastic bags is less than 5 percent, according to city research.
In a last-minute twist, the City Council added a provision to allow stores to charge 5 cents per paper bag because paper bags are more expensive to produce than plastic ones, Councilman Kevin Stoltz said. Bellingham's law contains a similar provision.
The fine for a violation will be $50, compared to $100 in Edmonds for a first offense and $250 for a second offense within two years. Edmonds' law took effect in August 2010, while Bellingham's was approved last July and takes effect next July.
The city plans to work with the Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce to promote the use of reusable bags, planning director Heather McCartney said. This includes producing a tote with a city logo that will be handed out at events, she said.
Most of the people who spoke at Monday's hearing favored the ban, but the city has received correspondence opposing it, as well, officials said. "We had strong letters from both sides," Lord said.
Stoltz had mild reservations about the ban because of the potential effect on businesses but saw that it had the votes to pass, he said.
"I'm not sure this is a solution that's really going to make much of a difference," he said.
Lord, too, had concerns but is enthusiastic about the law's intent.
"Clearly the voluntary methods aren't working," he said, citing the prevalence of plastic-bag pollution. "I don't think we've educated people enough."
The ban, he said, "is helping to raise an awareness of what exactly happens and that our lifestyle does make a difference."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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