LA CONNER — The town of La Conner has become the first town or city in Skagit County to ban businesses from providing customers with plastic carryout bags.
The La Conner Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban the use of plastic bags at businesses in town. The ban is an effort to reduce the use and disposal of plastic bags in favor of reusable bags.
Town Councilman Jacques Brunisholz said the decision was a no-brainer after hearing in May from Carol Sullivan and others involved with Skagit BAG BANd Wagon, a group that promotes the end of plastic bag distribution throughout Skagit County in an effort to reduce plastic pollution throughout the world.
“Think globally, act locally,” Brunisholz said.
The ban will take effect Aug. 1, with businesses able to apply for extensions up to Jan. 1, La Conner Town Administrator Scott Thomas said. Extensions will be provided on a case-by-case basis to businesses that may face hardships during the transition from plastic bags.
The ban will apply to local stores, shops, gas stations, markets and festivals, according to the ordinance. It will not apply to organizations providing social services or to takeout food prepared at local restaurants.
The ordinance highlights that according to the state Department of Ecology, plastic carryout bags are a major component of litter retrieved alongside state roadways.
While the ban will have environmental benefits, some are concerned about how it may affect businesses financially.
“There’s going to be people that are not very happy about it,” business owner and La Conner Visitor Information Center Director Lisa Judy said.
Several shops in downtown use specialty plastic bags with their logos printed on them. Judy said she relies on oversized plastic bags for wrapping large pictures sold at her business, That’s Knot All Artists’ Co-op.
“My main concern is that we’re touristy,” Judy said, unlike Bellingham which is an often-cited example of a city that has banned plastic bags. “There’s just a big difference between the two communities.”
Town Councilman John Leaver said the ban isn’t intended to create a hardship for businesses, and he believes plastic bags will eventually be more broadly banned.
“You were asleep at the wheel if you didn’t think plastic bags were going to be outlawed sooner or later, by the town or the state or whoever,” he said. “We’re just trying to take a baby step here and do the right thing.”
Sean Skiles, owner of the local grocer Pioneer Market, said transitioning from plastic will come with costs, but it’s doable and he supports the council’s decision.
“It will definitely have an impact on us as far as our cost is concerned, but we don’t have a huge problem with the issue,” he said. “Things are kind of going that direction anyway and we want to do our part.”
Pioneer Market uses plastic carryout bags, but for years it has been sending returned bags to Seattle to be recycled, Skiles said.
Sullivan said if La Conner would have included a 5 cent charge for paper bags in the ordinance — a method used in Bellingham and other cities that have banned plastic bags — that could have helped businesses offset the cost of switching from plastic.
Skiles said Pioneer Market will have to find ways to pass on increased costs to customers and will encourage them to bring reusable bags.
Leaver and Brunisholz said they credit Sullivan and the Skagit BAG BANd Wagon for inspiring La Conner to ban plastic bags.
Leaver said he met with Sullivan one-on-one and she recommended he watch the films “The Plastic Ocean” and “Bag It.” When he did, he was shocked.
“I was just blown away,” Leaver said. “It’s disgusting what we’re doing to ourselves and the world.”
Brunisholz said after hearing from the Skagit BAG BANd Wagon group about plastic that’s polluting the oceans and endangering wildlife, it was impossible to forget about the issue.
Sullivan said she hopes the same is true for the Burlington and Mount Vernon city councils, to which the group has also presented its case.
“We were very pleased with the unanimous vote of the council,” Sullivan said. “That’s definitely a step in the right direction and will perhaps be an inspiration to other communities in the Skagit Valley.”
The group also plans to speak to the Anacortes and Sedro-Woolley city councils.