Edmonds bag ban proceeds unfazed

EDMONDS — When it comes to plastic bag bans, Edmonds sings its own tune.

After all, it was the first Washington city to approve a ban of plastic checkout bags from all retail stores just last month. That ban is expected to start in August 2010.

So, while Seattle voters last week rejected a fee on plastic bags, Edmonds city leaders say they aren’t persuaded to change their ban, and even opponents say they don’t plan to challenge it.

The hubbub over bag bans even has influenced a Mukilteo City Councilman to raise the issue there.

Edmonds and Seattle each approached the plastic bag issue differently. Edmonds passed a complete ban on the bags from grocery stores and other retail businesses while Seattle planned to add a 20-cent charge for every bag, plastic or paper, provided at checkout counters.

“We felt it was better to just go the route we took,” said Edmonds City Councilman Strom Peterson, who led the push to ban plastic bags. “I think we did the right thing.”

Councilman Ron Wambolt, the lone no vote on the bag ban, said he doubts what Seattle voters did will be cause political fallout in Edmonds.

“I fully support reducing the use of these plastic bags, I just don’t want government involved in it,” he said.

If the vote on the Edmonds City Council had been closer, he said, “I might come back and say ‘maybe we should reconsider this and lift our ban.’ ”

Opponents of Edmonds’ bag ban included the American Chemistry Council’s lobbying arm, the Progressive Bag Affiliates, which funded the effort to overturn Seattle’s bag fee.

Shari Jackson, the group’s director, said her organization lobbied Edmonds council members.

“We seek to offer a more positive alternative in terms of encouraging people to recycle,” she said. “Plastics can be made into other products.”

Peterson said when officials showed Jackson’s organization “all the supporting documentation, they didn’t challenge it. We think we wrote some very good legislation.”

Peterson and Wambolt said they met with representatives from the Northwest Grocer’s Association and worked out an agreement to limit the ban to check-out bags.

“We very seriously took into account food safety issues, so when it comes to produce and bulk foods and meats, we wanted to make sure food safety was the priority,” Peterson said.

Edmonds’ only independent grocer, Petosa’s Family Grocer, stopped offering plastic bags on its own last year, said owner Betty Jo Petosa.

Still, she opposed the ban.

“I was never in favor of charging anybody for a bag,” she said. “I actually reward my customers who reuse a bag or bring their own bag in with a 5-cent reward.”

She said with “at least 40 percent” of customers bringing their own bags to the store, she figures Petosa’s pretty much breaks even on its bag expenses.

Mukilteo City Councilman Tony Tinsley brought up the issue of a bag ban in his city during an Aug. 3 council meeting. He’s asked city staff to look into the issue.

“What I would favor would be a ban rather than a fee,” Tinsley said. “To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about it as a tax.”

He said he doesn’t think fees are effective in changing behavior.

“The idea really isn’t to stick it to shoppers,” he said. “The idea is to reduce an environmental hazard, so I think a ban would be much more effective at doing that.”

Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429,ohalpert@heraldnet.com.

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