By Chris Fyall Herald Writer
EDMONDS — Seattle’s efforts to tax plastic grocery bags have attracted national headlines for nearly a year.
Just north of the big city, though, Edmonds is working on a plastic bag ban that could beat Seattle to the punch, making Edmonds the first city in Washington to regulate plastic bags.
Politicians in this city of 40,000 say they are considering a citywide ban on plastic shopping bags that some hope to implement before Seattle residents vote on a proposed 20-cent-per-bag tax on Aug. 18.
Moving quickly is better for everybody, said Councilman Strom Peterson, who said he is leading Edmonds’ effort for environmental reasons.
“Our garbage isn’t staying in Edmonds, and theirs isn’t staying in Seattle,” he said. “If a plastic bag gets into Puget Sound, it doesn’t matter where it came from.”
Seattle politicians figure that city’s residents and businesses use 360 million plastic bags a year.
Although there isn’t an Edmonds-specific statistic, Peterson estimates Edmonds uses between 8 million and 10 million bags annually.
Peterson and the City Council are scheduled to discuss a possible ban at tonight’s meeting. It’s part of the council’s effort to be a leader in making smart environmental policy.
Bags seemed like a good target, Peterson said.
A 2008 ban on plastic grocery bags in San Francisco has led to 5 million fewer plastic bags being distributed each month, according to reports.
Plastic bags have been in retreat in Edmonds, too. The city’s only downtown grocery store removed them from its check stands without much fanfare in March 2008, and some other stores have followed suit.
Customers haven’t really complained, even if they have been slow to change their habits, said Wheeler Edwards, general manager at the independently-owned Petosa’s Family Grocer. The store still puts produce and meat in small sanitary plastic bags, a practice Edmonds has no intention of banning, Peterson said.
Many Petosa’s customers forget their reusable bags and take home the paper bags that the store offers free, Edwards said.
According to the American Chemistry Council, those aren’t necessarily better for the environment. The group has said plastic bags use 70 percent less energy and emit 50 percent less greenhouse gas during production than paper bags.
At Petosa’s, the issue is less paper-versus-plastic than it is remembering-versus-forgetting, Edwards said.
“I’d be willing to bet that 90 percent of my customers have recycled bags somewhere — in their trunk, in their closet, somewhere,” Edwards said. “The biggest single challenge is the behavior of remembering the bag.”
Changing behavior is difficult, and it probably isn’t the place for a city government to be meddling, said Petra Rousu, a business owner in Edmonds.
“I think we need to appeal to people rather than dictate,” said Rousu, who said there is more than one way to save the environment. “I don’t think the City Council should force people to do this.”
Chris Fyall: 425-339-3447, firstname.lastname@example.org.