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Issaquah Bag Ban Hearing Leaves More Questions than Answers for Council

After taking public testimony, mostly from people with ties to the plastic bag and grocery industries, Issaquah City Council members said a ban looks less and less like a straightforward proposition.

At the public hearing April 30 on the issue of a proposed plastic bag ban in Issaquah, numerous area plastic bag industry representatives spoke out against a ban, while few local residents stood up to make a case.

In the end, council members commented that the issue is much more complex than it seemed at first blush.

"Wow, something so easy in the beginning became so complicated," said councilman Fred Butler. "Quite frankly, we've gotten more emails on this topic than anything in recent memory. This is going to be a tough job."

The council did not take any action on the issue last night after the rare special meeting, and will put the issue back on its agenda at a future meeting, likely in May, said Mayor Ava Frisinger.

After a presentation by David Fujimoto, the city's department of sustainability manager, several speakers gave prepared rebuttals to the proposed ban, saying such a ban would not only harm small local businesses that would see greatly increased costs, but would actually be worse for the environment.

Of the 10 or so people who gave public comment, only two spoke in favor of the ban; one a local resident who says she hasn't used paper or plastic bags in about three years, and the other a representative of the Northwest Grocery Association.

Holly Chisa, an Olympia-based lobbyist for the grocery association, said the organization supports the ban and the fact that it would apply across the board for retailers rather than singling out grocers.

Meanwhile, Laura Walker, the vendor manager for Issaquah Salmon Days Festival, said including outdoor events such as the festival in the ban would be detrimental, as many times the weather is soggy during the event and paper bags may not be practical. Walker said that one of the major components of the ban, educating consumers to bring their own reusable bags, would be difficult in the case of the festival, since most of its 180,000 annual visitors don't live in Issaquah.

Todd Myers, the environmental director for the Washington Policy Center, seemed to support at least in part what plastics industry representatives noted about waste from plastic bags.

"The question is not so much economics, it's does this help the environment," Myers said. "The data on reusable bags are very murky, I'll tell you."

Myers said one of the touchstones of the city's proposal, reducing marine debris related to plastics, may not be much affected by a plastic shopping bag ban. He says NOAA has most recently asserted that the effects of plastics on marine life have predominantly been from fishing gear, and not from plastic bags.

"My judgment on the whole would be that it's probably more harmful to the environment to ban the bags," he said.

The city continues to take public comment online at its website.

Laile Di Silvestro May 01, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Great coverage! It will be interesting to hear more about the nature of public input via the survey, e-mails, and phone calls when it is available.
Jeanne Gustafson May 01, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Yes, I agree, Laile. As of this morning, those submitted comments were not available on the city's website.

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