Plastic ban reaction a mixed bag in Anacortes

Bonita Smith (left) and Joanne Reger put merchandise in paper bags Saturday at the Alley Cat antique store in Anacortes. Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald

ANACORTES — Aiming to cut down on waste and help preserve marine environment and sea life, a volunteer group is hoping to make Anacortes the seventh community on the Puget Sound to ban retail stores from handing out plastic bags.

Currently composed of environmentalist advocates, business owners and city councilmen Ryan Walters and Eric Johnson, the Anacortes Bring Your Own Bag Coalition is putting together an ordinance based on Bellingham’s bag ban, which bans stores from giving away plastic bags with a purchase and charges 5 cents for a paper bag.

However, the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce and several small business owners in the city have taken a stand against the proposal, citing increased costs and space requirements for businesses, less convenience for consumers and worries about increased shoplifting as detriments to the idea.

Johnson said the ordinance, which has not yet been brought before City Council, will seek to eventually teach people bring their own bags.

He said he came up with the idea after spending four years in the Netherlands as an attache to the U.S. Embassy in The Hague, and posted an idea to consider it in Anacortes on his blog last April.

“In the Netherlands, everyone understands that they need to bring their own bag. It was a given, as it is in most parts of Europe, and yet it’s still virtually unknown on this side of the Pacific,” Johnson said.

Johnson said concerns about nondegradable bags piling up in land fills, on ocean floors and along local highways spurred the coalition to come together and start taking action on the topic.

In 2009, Edmonds was the first city in the state to ban plastic bags and has since been joined by Bellingham, Seattle, Issaquah, Port Townsend, Mukilteo and Bainbridge Island.

Retailers and business leaders in the city have differing views on the idea.

Stephanie Hamilton, executive director of the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber board of directors voted Jan. 15 to oppose the proposition. She said businesses can currently choose to offer whatever post-purchase packaging they want and make decisions based on the store’s budget, product and marketing strategy, but a law would be invasive.

“Our chamber has a platform, and it is no new regulations on businesses,” Hamilton said.

Lea Mayberry, owner of Alley Cat Antiques in Anacortes, said her store already re-uses bags and cardboard boxes, and customers often choose just to carry their items out in hand. She said she would like to see greater public education on recycling instead of an outright ban, along with more recycling receptacles on sidewalks and easier-to-reach facilities in town.

“In our store, every box that comes in goes out with merchandise in it. We’re doing everything in our power to reduce and recycle, and we’re not charging anyone for it,” Mayberry said.

Cheryl Frasier, owner of Epicure for the Passionate Cook, said an increase of people walking around stores with their own bags may lead to more instances of shoplifting. As a purveyor of high-dollar items, she said she didn’t like the idea of charging customers five cents for a paper bag after a large purchase.

Recognizing Anacortes retail as being largely tourism-driven, Frasier said she also doubted whether newcomers to the town would know to bring their own bags to shops.

Sue Cole, spokeswoman for The Markets, LLC, said a bag ban in Bellingham had a minimal effect on her business after implementation was taken care of. The company’s new store on Lakeway Drive in Bellingham features signs in the parking lot and front doors to remind shoppers to bring in their own bag, and the store uses cardboard boxes as replacements for three to four grocery bags.

Cole said negative customer reaction to a plastic bag ban has been minimal.

The Anacortes Ace Hardware store has implemented a plastic bag ban of its own for two years and uses paper instead. Floor manager Chris Holle said stopping the use of plastic went over pretty smoothly, and many customers bring their own bags.

“A lot of people don’t use bags anymore, and I think it’s a great thing, because there’s too many plastic bags out there,” Holle said.

Johnson said his coalition will continue talks with business owners and service groups in the town and eventually hopes to bring an ordinance up for discussion with the city council.

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