PORT ORCHARD — A contentious issue for many on the Seattle side of Puget Sound and elsewhere — banning single-use plastic bags — was a subject broached by the City of Port Orchard at a town hall meeting May 29.
It’s a timely discussion topic, since Kitsap County’s government officials have begun to explore whether to implement a similar ban here. Chris Piercy, the recycling coordinator for Kitsap County Public Works Solid Waste Division, told the sparse crowd in City Hall’s council chambers that the county commissioners office had asked his department to evaluate the effectiveness of a ban on single-use plastic bags in the county.
Piercy said single-use plastic bags are ubiquitous. In Kitsap County, he said, 85 million bags are disposed of each year — and only one-half of one percent of that number are recycled here.
But disposing of millions of plastic bags isn’t nearly as easy as might be assumed, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The organization states on its website that the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.
Across the U.S., 100 billion of the bags are used every year, the organization stated. Nationwide, bag users recycle only incrementally better than their counterparts in Kitsap County: just 1 percent of the nation’s plastic bags are recycled. Doing the math, it’s estimated Mr. and Mrs. American recycles just 15 bags in a year’s time out of 1,500 they use. The rest head to landfills.
The county commissioners — Charlotte Garrido attended the town hall session — were briefed on the approaches a few area municipalities have taken to reduce the recycling and landfill burden that plastic bags have presented, Piercy said.
“We’re still in an exploratory stage,” he said of the county review. “[We’re] talking to stakeholders, including the City of Port Orchard and other cities in the county.”
Piercy said county officials are looking at the bans implemented by other cities and counties in the state. He noted that most of the bans have been established by larger cities such as Seattle, but smaller towns — including Port Angeles, Bainbridge Island, Friday Harbor and Ellensburg — also have enacted bans by statute.
Mayor Rob Putaansuu of Port Orchard said the city hasn’t taken a position on banning single-use plastic bags, but he nonetheless scheduled the town hall as a result of the county’s review process.
Heather Trim with Zero Waste Washington said her organization is “thrilled” that Port Orchard and Kitsap County are at least looking into implementing a ban.
“We are now working with 16 different communities and counties in Washington that are interested in doing bag ordinances,” Trim said. “There’s a sort of tidal wave going on about bags.”
She said the purpose behind the ban is well-founded. Area biologists recently have reported on the impact of microplastics — tiny, broken-apart bits of the material —that are being found in shellfish.
But for Pat Campbell, the county’s solid waste division manager, the top argument for a ban is the adverse impact plastic bags have on recycling equipment. Currently, plastic bags are not allowed in recycling bins, but that hasn’t kept residents from doing so.
“It’s a nightmare for (the recycling facilities),” Campbell told the audience. “The bags catch on the rollers of their equipment. They have to stop the line at least once every shift for at least 20 minutes and have their employees pull the bags out of the equipment.”
The county manager said when an owner of an area recycling facility was asked about his top three problems, he responded: “Plastic bags, plastic bags, plastic bags.”
Some residents attending the town hall were less convinced that a ban is needed, however. Donald Rude said he wants to see the city refrain from implementing a ban.
“Can you imagine using paper bags to clean up after your dog in the park with a paper bag?” Rude asked. He said many store clerks take a dim view of customers using their own bags.
“Many store clerks are upset with the use of personal carryout bags, as some of the bags customers bring in are so filthy they don’t want to touch them or even have them on their counter.”
But Sheila Cline said she is “all-in for the ban.” Cline said she has been educated as a result of her daughter’s studies in sustainability at school. In her household, she said they use a variety of bags.
“I think plastic as a whole needs to go away. I think we should do a plastic straw ban. It’s all about changing our habits. I think we need to listen to the younger crowd and use less.”
City Council member Cindy Lucarelli said that while she is a dedicated plastic-bag recycler, she’s worried about the impact a ban would impose on local retailers. Lucarelli wondered if an educational awareness campaign might be more effective.
“You’ve got a whole lot of people switching their habits from buying from the retail stores to online,” she said. “We benefit as a city from the sales of these local retailers.”
Lynn Cavanaugh, a former teacher, also agreed that an educational effort encouraging young people to use plastic materials more wisely would be beneficial for the community.
“I would love to see a ban on [plastic] straws, plastic cups and one-time-use bags,” Cavanaugh said. “We need to have something in our schools to teach our kids. They are our future. We old folks are set in our ways and we don’t like change. If we start with the young ones, they can help us learn.”