In one camp at a forum Tuesday evening on Tacoma’s proposed ban on plastic grocery bags, environmentalists talked about saving oceans from long-lasting litter and improving the city’s image.
“It just takes a little conscientiousness and responsibility to help our endangered sea turtles and save the planet,” bag ban supporter Cheryl Kopec said.
On the other side, a crowd bristled at what they perceived as a sanctimonious attempt to change the way they shop that wouldn’t do much to reduce the amount of waste Tacoma produces.
“Everyone I know hates it,” said Jennifer Ammons, 38, a Tacoma resident who recently moved to the city from Olympia, which already has a bag ban.
She called it “annoying,” “pointless,” something that smacked of a “hidden agenda” and could be unhealthy if people don’t wash reusable bags.
Both sides spent the evening talking past each other during an open house the city hosted to refine a proposal expected to appear before the City Council’s sustainability committee April 27.
After that, it could go to a full council vote by late May and become law.
City employees and the all-volunteer Sustainable Tacoma Commission have been batting around a bag ban since 2012, when other Western Washington cities started passing similar laws.
Tacoma would become the 15th community in the state to prohibit disposable bags if it adopts its own ordinance.
The proposal would ban single-use plastic bags and require retailers to charge a nickel for paper bags as a way to persuade people to switch to reusable shopping bags.
Low-income families with food stamps or other forms of assistance would be exempt from the fees.
Ban advocates at the forum at the Tacoma Public Library said they want to outlaw a kind of litter that can drift into bodies of water and harm wildlife, even though it represents a small fraction of the city’s waste.
They pointed to cities such as Seattle, Bellingham and Olympia, where many residents have grown accustomed to shopping with reusable bags.
“I want Tacoma to be the kind of city that I want to live in, raise my kids in and be proud of,” said Seamus Mahoney, 31, who connected support for the bag ban to his opposition to a stalled proposal that would bring the world’s largest methanol plant to Tacoma.
“We’re making permanent, plastic solutions to problems that just don’t need them,” he said.
An almost equal number of opponents countered by raising concerns about potential effects on small retailers, low-income residents and people who reuse disposable bags for any number of household chores.
“What I’m taking away from tonight is a horrendous offense,” said Toni Vercillo of Vercillo’s Catholic Book and Gift. “I am an (obsessive compulsive) recycler, but I am against this because I am a small business owner and we are going to be impacted by this.”
She characterized plastic grocery bags as recyclable, and said the majority of residents should not be punished because some bags become litter.
City Councilmen Conor McCarthy and Keith Blocker attended the forum. McCarthy wants to see more outreach to bring the two sides of the debate together.
“We all want to do the right thing when it comes to conservation and sustainability for us and those that will follow,” McCarthy said. “In order to get there, maybe we need a little more work with the folks who are impassioned and have divergent views.”