Gateway

Time for Gig Harbor to invest in metal straws? Councilwoman pushes to ban plastic

Will Gong bags up groceries for customers at Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia in 2012. Olympia has since banned plastic bags. The city of Gig Harbor is considering similar ordinances that would ban certain types of plastic bags, to-go containers and straws.
Will Gong bags up groceries for customers at Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia in 2012. Olympia has since banned plastic bags. The city of Gig Harbor is considering similar ordinances that would ban certain types of plastic bags, to-go containers and straws. Staff photographer

Gig Harbor City Councilwoman Jeni Woock is leading the charge to follow Tacoma and Seattle to lower the use of plastic and Styrofoam in her city.

“I have been asked by a lot of our community, ‘Let’s get rid of plastic,’’’ Woock said. “That’s what’s inspired me all along. Earlier this year there was a group that formed called the Gig Harbor Sustainability Coalition to ensure that Gig Harbor is green to take care of the future for our kids and animals.”

During the summer, Woock mentioned during a council meeting the idea of banning the use of plastic straws at restaurants and cafes in the city. The council requested Woock bring a proposed ordinance to the Safety and Finance Committee.

The committee met in September to discuss Woock’s proposal, and now two ordinances will be before the council starting in November for public discussion and a vote.

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Jeni Woock

The first proposed ordinance addresses reusable bags.

The ordinance would restrict retailers and restaurants from providing customers with “single-use thin, two-handle plastic shopping bags 11 inches by 12 inches or larger”, according to gogreeninthegig.org, the coalition’s website. Retail stores would charge a 5-cent fee for large, paper bags, and stores would be allowed to give away paper or small recyclable bags. Stores also would be required to show all bag charges on receipts. Businesses would be allowed to keep the fee revenue.

If passed, it would give stores and restaurants six months to comply.

Anyone using EBT cards or state funds would be exempt from the nickel fee. Bags that would be exempt from the ordinance include:

Plastic bags used for take-out orders of prepared food from restaurants.

Plastic dry-cleaner, newspaper and door-hanger bags are allowed but cannot be tinted green or brown.

Plastic bags sold in packages of multiples such as trash bag or yard-waste bags.

The second ordinance proposed by Woock would tackle straws, Styrofoam and single-use plastic cutlery. The ordinance would give restaurants and stores a year to comply.

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According to the coalition’s website, food service providers would be restricted from selling or providing single-use plastic straws, stirrers, cocktail picks and cutlery for use on or off its premises. The restriction does not apply to “flexible plastic drinking straws” when needed by customers with medical or physical conditions. Styrofoam to-go containers would also be banned. The ordinance would be in effect for three years before restaurants would be eligible for a $250 fine for using the restricted items.

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The votes for the ordinances on the council are not certain.

During the Sept. 19 Finance Safety Committee meeting, council members and the mayor expressed some concerns about the ordinances.

“I’m concerned about staff time,” Mayor Kit Kuhn said during the meeting. “Our attorney is staff time. If this passes, I still want a consideration of our attorney’s time and our individual times.”

Kuhn also expressed concerns about making sure enough business owners and interested parties would be notified of the proposals.

Woock said she has gone to all the major grocery chains and has made rounds to the local restaurants to discuss the bans.

“I have not received any push back,” Woock said.

Councilman Jim Franich admitted he was on the fence about the idea and was leaning towards a “no” vote.

“I feel this isn’t a government issue,” Franich said. “I am still contemplating this proposal. I would like to see it from the grassroots, where people are going to voluntarily do away with these items.”

Woock gathered information from local stores and calculated the stores in Gig Harbor order 9.9 million plastic bags each year.

“So when I was talking to the grocery stores, they told me they needed two weeks to switch,” Woock said. “When I was talking to Target, the manager said it would only take a week. We need to remember that a lot of these businesses perhaps have sister businesses in Tacoma, who is already using paper bags.”

“For them it needs to be a legislative move because they believe everyone needs to play by the same rules,” Woock said. “We are just reducing the number of plastic bags. They are still allowed.”

Councilman Michael Perrow said a plastic bag ban seems to be an insignificant change, especially since consumers in Gig Harbor could still purchase their own plastic straws, cups and cutlery.

“It’s laughable,” Perrow said. “I mean juice boxes come with plastic straws. You can purchase these items at Target or Safeway.”

Woock said she understands the issue of plastic waste is larger than straws and bags but hopes starting a change now would create a snowball effect for the future.

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“We need to start making a small dent to make a bigger dent in the problem in the future,” she said. “First of all let’s get it done here, and perhaps someone will have this go forward in the county and beyond.”

The two ordinances are expected to be brought to the council for a first reading and consideration during the Nov. 24 public meeting. Public comment will be allowed during discussion. Public city council meetings take place at 6 p.m. during the second and fourth Monday of each month at Gig Harbor City Hall.

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie
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