Matt Driscoll

Tacoma’s plastic bag hoarders desperately try to stave off the inevitable

Mitchell Sissons of Stadium Thriftway in Tacoma puts customers groceries into a recycled plastic grocery bag in 2015. Starting July 12, you’ll need to bring your own bags when you shop anywhere in the city limits.
Mitchell Sissons of Stadium Thriftway in Tacoma puts customers groceries into a recycled plastic grocery bag in 2015. Starting July 12, you’ll need to bring your own bags when you shop anywhere in the city limits. Staff file, 2015

Most were quick to admit it.

“I’m a bag hoarder,” Leslie Ann Rose told me bluntly.

The admission came in response to a search I undertook — initially via Facebook — looking for anyone who might be dreading the July 12 implementation of Tacoma’s Bring Your Own Bag ordinance.

Most seem to refer to the ordinance simply as Tacoma’s plastic bag ban, though the shorthand doesn’t exactly do justice to the city’s newest environmental policy.

Either way, some, such as Rose, have taken to stockpiling the thin, plastic convenience in anticipation for a coming shortage.

Which is exactly as I expected. And exactly what I was looking for.

As one Facebook commenter confided in me, “My grandma — rest her soul — hoarded them before the Thurston County bag ban. That was part of my inheritance.”

Here in Tacoma, a year after the City Council passed the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance – by a vote of 8 to 1 – it’s on the cusp of becoming a reality. In time, as other cities have experienced, we’ll adapt. And we’ll be (at least slightly) better for it.

Sure, there are reasons for concern — many of which I’ve noted before.

The possibility that the ordinance will disproportionately affect low-income communities is real, and probably the biggest issue with the policy. But, to the city’s credit, elected officials and staff members have taken steps to address the potential problem, including recently doubling the number of free reusable bags that will be made available to the public.

The move came in response to concerns raised by City Councilman Marty Campbell, who represents the city’s East Side. As we move forward with the bag ordinance, it will be important for the city to remain open to tweaks and improvements like this.

But, for the time being, just because nearly 365 days have passed since the fate of thin plastic bags in Tacoma was sealed doesn’t mean concern among those who fear the ramifications has completely subsided.

There’s still anger. There’s still frustration.

And, yes, in some local drawers and pantries, there’s outright bag hoarding.

Ultimately, the bags aren’t the problem. People are the problem.

Leslie Ann Rose, an admitted plastic bag hoarder

Rose reuses the plastic bags for many things, she said, such as for a garbage receptacle, and for cleaning out the litter box. She’s come to rely on them, she told me.

Her two indoor cats, she explained, “demand that their box is always fresh and clean.”

That’s cats for you.

Rose, a former senior policy analyst with the environmental group Citizens for a Healthy Bay, said she finds herself in an interesting predicament. She doesn’t support the bag ordinance, a stance that has put her at odds with some friends and former colleagues.

“I’m getting a lot of pushback from people in the environmental community, because you know what, I am and was one of those people for a lot of years,” Rose explains. “I’ve got friends … that I’m a target for.”

“Could I do without hording them? Yes. But here’s the thing,” she continues. “The whole plastic bag ban deal makes sense on a regional level. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense on a local level.”

Rose is a resident of Northeast Tacoma – a fact she points to in helping make her case. She believes the ordinance won’t have much impact, because – regionally – plastic bags are still readily available.

And, for her and her neighbors, they’ll still be available at many of the places they shop, in Federal Way and elsewhere. (Amazon, anyone?)

“My biggest gripe about the (Bring Your Own Bag) philosophy is that it needs to be implanted on a regional scale,” she tells me. “Otherwise we’re not getting rid of anything.

“Ultimately, the bags aren’t the problem. People are the problem.”

While the ultimate effectiveness of Tacoma’s bag ordinance remains debatable — and has already been exhaustively debated — what’s clear is Rose isn’t alone in her bag hoarding.

And even some who are in favor of the ordinance, such as Hilltop resident Nic Van Putten, have been furiously stockpiling.

“I support it. It makes sense to me,” Van Putten said of the ordinance. He believes the policy, as intended, will help “keep bags out of the Sound, and out of the streets.”

Still, with two 90-pound dogs and a kid in diapers — a group he estimates could “single-handedly supply the city with all its Tagro” — Van Putten acknowledged that, as of late, his family has “generally been asking for plastic bags” when they go to the store.

“I’ve got as much of a horde as I can build,” he told me.

So how long does he think it’ll last?

Probably a month. ... My dogs are pretty big.

Hilltop resident Nic Van Putten, when asked how long his stockpile of plastic bags will likely last

“Probably a month,” he said. “My dogs are pretty big.”

And after that?

He said he’ll adjust.

As we all will.

Which, after all, is precisely the point.