The passage Tuesday of a re-usable bag ordinance is a huge win for Tacoma’s environment, citizens and businesses. It eliminates a wasteful nuisance that masquerades as a convenience in everyday life.
Single-use plastic bags make up only 0.2 percent of the waste stream, but they wreak havoc on recycling systems, marine life, and supply chains for both business and the environment.
Nationally, less than 6 percent of plastic bags are recycled, but when they are, they clog material recovery facilities, causing hours of labor to unclog machines. When the other 94 percent of plastic bags blow out into the ecosystem, the havoc continues in the stomachs of wildlife. They also get stuck in trees and fences all across the city.
In Washington, the major markets along the Interstate 5 corridor have used a “Bring Your Own Bag” ordinance for years, and Tacoma was trailing as the sore thumb. The Northwest Grocery Association supports this ordinance because it brings Tacoma into the fold with what was described at Tuesday’s City Council meeting as the “the model businesses know.”
Tacoma residents are fed up with the litter of plastic bags because of the wasteful behaviors they represent. With this ordinance phasing in over the next year, Tacoma is free to set its sights on more ambitious goals.
The people who say bringing your own bag to a store isn’t going to solve all of Tacoma’s environmental problems are absolutely right. There is much work to be done.
This year, the city’s Office of Sustainability released a comprehensive Environmental Action Plan with the help of hundreds of citizens who poured out comments and came to planning events. There are nearly 70 action items the City Council ratified as concrete and worthwhile projects.
These include creating a self-funding staff position to reduce energy costs in city buildings. There is work to be done around food access, gleaning and creating pathways for entrepreneurs growing food in the city. There is urgent work to be done around equitable tree canopy cover and fair distribution of energy incentives for low-income residents.
There are numerous opportunities to save the city headaches ranging from reducing traffic to lowering the costs of waste disposal.
Bringing your own bag is vitally important as a signal to address those larger actions that we all could be taking. A bag is something that we all touch every day, but until now the default option was one that was fleetingly convenient but ultimately destructive.
As a city we’ve decided to be farsighted in this mundane task, to recognize that small choices add up, and to decide to make a better one. Putting incentives on reusable bags represents a tangible behavioral shift that will prompt other sustainable actions.
It’s self-reflection like this that will bring about further understanding of the way our city functions and where there is room for more efficient, sustainability-focused ways of doing business.
Still, change can be uncomfortable, and it’s important to limit the harm a new way of doing things could cause. That’s why the next year will be filled with bag giveaways and educational events. Even more important, it will be a year filled with other great opportunities for citizen engagement around more action items from the Environmental Action Plan.
I believe in Tacoma’s future, and I’m proud of what we’ve done. The bar has been raised in Tacoma, and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish next.
Good riddance to bad rubbish.
Chrissy Cooley chairs the Sustainable Tacoma Commission.