Tacoma’s proposed ban on plastic grocery bags is moving forward, but a City Council meeting Tuesday revealed tough questions about the ordinance that could lead to its rejection.
So far, three City Council members are on the record supporting a measure that would prohibit stores from handing out free, disposable plastic bags while charging customers at least a nickel if they want to use a paper bag. That group is Keith Blocker, Anders Ibsen and Ryan Mello.
Two other council members — Conor McCarthy and Joe Lonergan — are critical of it. McCarthy thinks it’s moving too fast and would benefit from more discussion; Lonergan questions whether it would place a burden on the city’s lower-income neighborhoods while yielding minimal environmental benefits.
“I am not seeing where this proposal is fully baked and getting us to a positive result,” Lonergan said.
That leaves four council members who have not indicated clearly whether they’re ready to endorse the bag ban.
One, Marty Campbell, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. The other undecided officials suggested they’re still weighing the tradeoffs of outlawing an item that many residents say they reuse and recycle, but that also contributes to litter on streets and waterways.
Mayor Marilyn Strickland, Councilwoman Victoria Woodards and Councilman Robert Thoms expressed reservations about how the proposal might affect lower-income and minority neighborhoods, as did Blocker. They discussed ways to give reusable bags to lower-income families.
“It’s just annoying that I would impact so many for such a negligible thing to do. I get it. It’s the right thing to do,” said Councilman Robert Thoms, noting that plastic bags represent about 0.3 percent of the city’s overall waste.
Tacoma city employees and council members have been considering banning plastic bags since 2012, when cities such as Bellingham and Seattle began prohibiting most stores from giving them to customers.
The idea is to persuade residents to bring reusable bags with them when they shop, thereby reducing demand for lightweight plastics that can end up in oceans or littering parks.
“I don’t have a problem with this type of policy, but I just want to be clear that we are sure of what it is and what it isn’t,” said Strickland, who said banning plastic bags would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions but could keep harmful litter away from wildlife. “It clearly is a litter issue, and you can clearly see examples of how it impacts marine life,” she said.
Council members could have halted the proposal at their study session. Instead, it will move forward to a full City Council meeting in the next few weeks.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646