Plastic single-use grocery store bags may soon be banned in Bremerton, making the city the latest in the state to consider removing what has become the bane of solid waste departments and environmental advocates nationwide.
According to a study from the state’s Department of Ecology, those single-use plastic bags, handed out at nearly every retailer from convenience stores to pet shops, are one of the Top Ten littered items in the state – by weight.
“Which is pretty astounding, since they are very lightweight,” said Christopher Piercy, a solid waste program supervisor with Kitsap County.
An estimated 97 million single-use plastic bags are disposed of each year in Kitsap, Piercy said.
He oversees the county’s recycling program, and he said the bags also wreak havoc in recycling plants.
“It’s one of the most common contaminants that we find,” he said, attributing the phenomenon to what’s called ‘wish-cycling,’ when people recycle things that are non-recyclable, in the hopes that something good will come of it.
“Recycling equipment is spinning screens and turning gears,” he said. “Plastic bags have a tendency to wrap into the equipment,” leading recycling facilities to shut down between two to three times per day, he said. “It’s all hands on deck, and workers use box knives to cut the plastic out.”
On Wednesday, a draft ordinance was set before the Bremerton City Council to bar retailers from handing out the free, single-use plastic bags. It follows a similar ban passed by the Bainbridge City Council in 2012.
If passed, retailers would instead be allowed to offer paper bags, or thicker, reusable plastic bags, with a mandatory five-cent fee.
The draft will be subject to public hearings before being voted on.
A massive public outreach campaign would also be undertaken to inform retailers about the new rules and help consumers get used to bringing their own bags. The campaign might include things like handing out stickers to place on cars as a reminder to “bring a bag,” or it could be advertising on shopping carts.
The measure received support among some council members Wednesday.
“Something has to be done,” said councilor Kevin Gorman. “Do we place our own convenience over the health of our environment?”
Another council member, Pat Sullivan, expressed concern about what she saw as the government dictating to businesses what they can and cannot do. She wondered whether more public education would be sufficient to address the problem.
“Has that been tried, rather than putting through an ordinance like this?” she asked.
The next step for Bremerton will be to revise the draft, if necessary, and to hold public forums.
“I think we’d be wise to have the public have some input on this,” Richard Huddy said.