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The Anacortes City Council voted 5-0 Monday to ban so-called single-use plastic shopping bags in the city limits to reduce plastic waste. (Shutterstock)

Those thin-film plastic bags shoppers use to tote goods from store to car to kitchen will soon be a thing of the past in all retail stores in Anacortes.

The City Council voted 5-0 Monday to ban so-called single-use plastic shopping bags in the city limits to reduce plastic waste. Council members Bruce McDougall and Matt Miller were absent but sent word through Mayor Laurie Gere how they would have voted if present (McDougall supported the ordinance, Miller opposed it, Gere said).

The ban applies to all retail establishments, not just those 10,000 feet or larger as proposed in the draft ordinance introduced last month. The ordinance allows stores to charge a fee of 10 cents for a paper bag requested by a customer. The fee is mostly intended to compel shoppers into using reusable bags, but will also help stores recoup the costs for paper bags, which are more than the plastic bags. Stores can still distribute shopping bags of 2.25-mil or greater thickness; those bags will also carry a 10-cent fee. 

The ordinance takes effect in six months, to give stores time to use up their supplies of thin-film bags.

“I am grateful you are working on this,” Marie Burnett of Anacortes told the council. “This is a critical issue. Thank you for taking this seriously and making a difference.”

Local stores hand out an estimated 13,000 thin-film plastic bags in Anacortes each day. Ban supporters say those bags eventually end up in the waste stream or in the environment. Thin-film bags “take many years to decompose and eventually break down into microscopic granules, which can persist in the environment and may pose a threat to animal life, the natural food chain, and the environment,” a city document states. In addition, the bags “cause significant problems for recycling processors and are costly to deal with and dispose of.”

Holly Chisa of the Northwest Grocery Association spoke in favor of the ban, as did Heather Trim of Zero Waste Washington.

Chisa said stores that charge a fee for paper bags see a significant reduction in paper bag use as consumers get into the habit of using their own tote bags.

Randy Burgess, owner of Ace Hardware in Anacortes and Friday Harbor, told the council last month that he gives tote bags — some decorated with a flower pattern, some bearing the Ace Hardware logo — to customers for free. As a result, paper bag use at his stores has significantly decreased.

Anacortes is one of approximately 26 jurisdictions in Washington to ban thin-film plastic shopping bags. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, local governments in 16 states and the District of Columbia have adopted similar legislation.

Some plastic bags will still have a presence in local stores, however. The ordinance allows:

• “Bags used by consumers inside stores to: (a) package bulk items, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, candy or small hardware items; (b) contain or wrap frozen foods, meat, fish, whether packaged or not; (c) contain or wrap flowers, potted plants, or other items where dampness may be a problem; or (d) contain unwrapped prepared foods or bakery goods; (e) pharmacy prescription bags.”

• Bags “provided by food providers to customers for the transportation of prepared takeout foods and prepared liquids intended for consumption away from the food provider’s premises.”

• “Newspaper bags, door-hanger bags, laundry-dry cleaning bags, or bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for use as garbage, pet waste, or yard waste bags.”

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