EVERETT — As environmental concern rises in the county, local groups are taking aim at single-use plastics.
In Everett, a trip to the grocery store without reusable sacks might cost a few more cents if a prospective plastic bag ban is passed by the City Council. To the east, in the city of Snohomish, a group is launching a campaign to reduce plastic straws.
“I think it’s time to get with the modern program,” said Pam Kepford, a member of 350 Everett, a local environmental group.
Americans use 100 billion single-use plastic bags each year, according to the Earth Policy Institute. These sacks take anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill, said Hannah Scholes, Waste Management’s education and outreach coordinator.
“We don’t know for sure because plastics have only been around for about 50 years,” Scholes wrote in an email.
And putting them in the recycling bin is not a better alternative.
“When plastic bags go to the sorting facility, they get tangled up in equipment and can shut down a whole recycling center for hours,” she said. “The best way to recycle plastic bags is to return them to the grocery store.”
Look closely: plastic bags wrap around equipment at recycling centers & have to be manually cut away. This brings recycling to a halt & threatens viability of local recycling systems. How do we solve it? Stop contamination by recycling right: https://t.co/3lqNY2FhsL #Recycling101 pic.twitter.com/3SYg7FKQPP
— Jackie Lang (@greengirlwest) April 9, 2018
Working with Zero Waste Washington, 350 Everett proposed the reusable bag ordinance.
If approved, it would prohibit retailers and supermarkets from handing out the bags at checkout. Shoppers who don’t bring reusable sacks would be able to purchase a paper one or a thicker reusable plastic bag for $0.05. The store would keep the fee.
The charge would be waived for qualifying low-income households. And it would not impact produce, newspapers, take-out food or dry cleaning.
“I think we need to take the step,” said Paul Roberts, council president, in a recent interview.
He said there was support from other elected leaders, including Mayor Cassie Franklin.
“As the city works to update our climate action plan, we will continue looking at options like this that we can take to improve Everett’s environmental sustainability,” Franklin wrote in an email.
Roberts said the council will introduce an ordinance at Wednesday’s meeting and he expects a vote Oct. 31.
Opponents argue these bans can be burdensome and paper sacks don’t survive long in the rainy Pacific Northwest.
Karen Olsen, who works as a caregiver in Everett, said plastic bags are easier for many seniors to carry groceries up several flights of stairs.
“The paper bags rip,” Olsen said.
Kepford, with 350 Everett, said a prohibition would help keep Everett’s streets and parks cleaner. Plastic bags were among the top items collected during the 2017 Coastal Cleanup in Washington state, according to the Ocean Conservancy. When the bags get blown into waterways, marine life can mistake them for food.
“There’s not very many ways you can get plastics out of your life,” Kepford said. “But this is one way citizens can really make an impact on plastics.”
At least one large grocery chain has already committed to transitioning away from plastic bags. In August, Kroger Co. announced it was eliminating the sacks from all its locations by 2025, including Fred Meyer and QFC stores. QFC began phasing them out at its Bellevue locations in October. The grocery store plans to roll out the program to other stores early next year.
In the city of Snohomish, the group Green Snohomish is taking a slightly different route. The group is launching a “Strawless in Snohomish” campaign.
“We’re looking to change behavior,” said Karen Gahm, a member of the group. “We want to encourage businesses to not automatically give straws out, or use compostable or non-single-use straws that are made from metal or glass.”
The group plans on visiting every restaurant in Snohomish to ask owners to voluntarily reduce the distribution of plastic straws.
“It’s a movement whose time has come,” Gahm said. “The beaches belong to all of us.”
Gahm said the group also is planning to push the city to eliminate plastic bags.
Gahm encourages restaurants and cafes to provide straws on request, recognizing that some people do need them.
Straw bans have faced opposition from disability advocates who argue alternatives, such as glass or paper, don’t often work well for everyone.
Seattle became one of the first cities in the U.S. to eliminate plastics straws. The prohibition went into effect in July.
The Edmonds City Council followed suit earlier this year, approving a plan to phase out plastic straws and utensils at local businesses by 2020.
Businesses also are beginning to ban the straws. In July, Starbucks announced the company was eliminating them from stores by 2020. Starbucks said that change would eliminate more than one billion plastic straws used every year.
Annie Dottai, owner of Grilla Bites on First Street in Snohomish, said she’s been using compostable items since she opened her restaurant more than a decade ago. Even though her current straws are compostable, they don’t break down in landfills, she said. Only commercial composters can handle that kind of plastic. Dottai is looking to move to paper straws, but she said they are difficult to find.
“Seeing posts on Facebook of guys cleaning the ocean made me realize that a lot of our trash goes into the ocean,” Dottai said.
To learn more about what should and shouldn’t be recycled, visit www.recycleoftenrecycleright.com.