Olympia council bans plastic grocery-style bags

The Olympia City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to join ban thin plastic, grocery-style bags from city retailers starting in July, joining Tumwater and unincorporated Thurston County.

The ban will apply to all retailers, but mostly affect supermarkets, most of which use the so-called “t-shirt bags.” Shoppers will either have to bring their own reusable bags to stores or pay 5 cents per paper bag. The money will go directly to stores to offset their costs.

Other plastic bags, such as the thin bags used for meat or produce and the thicker plastic bags used by department stores, are exempt from the ban. Newspaper bags, doggie bags and dry cleaning bags are exempt.

Packages of garbage bags are not part of the ban.

The Tumwater City Council and Thurston County Board of Commissioners approved bans earlier.

County leaders have been considering a bag ban for the last couple of years, concerned that most bags end up as litter or in a landfill. A county advisory committee recommended a model ban that it encouraged all county jurisdictions to adopt, leaving the final decision with them.

Olympia staff expressed concern about the bags.

“Plastic bags are the most common consumer product in the U.S., with the average resident using 350-500 bags per year,” a city staff report says. “Each bag on average is used for only 12 minutes. Single-use plastic bags contaminate curbside recycling streams and cause litter problems. Only an estimated 5 to 8 percent get recycled annually. Thurston County consumes approximately 90 million bags each year.”

Supporters of the ban include major supermarkets and the Northwest Grocery Association along with LeMay Inc., which discontinued its role as the county’s plastic bag recycler this this month, citing a lack of a market. Opponents include the plastic bag industry.

Council members mostly offered support for the move.

Councilman Nathaniel Jones said the problem with the plastic bags is that “there’s just too many of them.” Thurston County consumes about 90 million bags a year, according to the city staff report.

Jones said that it’s important that other jurisdictions in the county “participate at the same level” in the ban.

Councilwoman Karen Rogers, while voting for the measure, expressed reservations. She said she dislikes using plastic, but uses the bags for dogs, traveling and weeding in the yard. She proposed putting a 10 cent fee on plastic bags to discourage their use. With the ban, she said she would be using more plastic bags.

Councilman Steve Langer disagreed.

“I will not be using more t-shirt bags and I hope that we can move this on because it’s really late,” Langer said at about 11:13 p.m.