The death certificate was signed just after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12.
The cause of death: Environmental concern, with a side of liberal politics.
Though it will be a year until Tacoma grocery stores officially say goodbye to their cheap, reliable, environmentally terrible to-go gift — the single-use plastic bag — this is the week we’ll all look back on when chronicling their demise here.
After a lengthy council meeting, the decision to ban thin plastic bags and place a five-cent fee on paper bags — all in an effort to inspire shoppers to bring reusable bags of their own — was reached in typical council fashion: in near unison.
Somewhere, the sea creatures smiled.
Somewhere, Don McLean penned a heartfelt ditty about the moment.
Somewhere, a dog did its business and wondered what the future will hold.
While it was clear some council members harbored hesitations — including Conor McCarthy, who has squirmed throughout the process and has been a proponent of even more outreach and consensus building, and Keith Blocker, who, as the representative for Hilltop and parts of the city south of the Interstate 5 income divide, has a responsibility to at least wonder what impact the move will have on lower income shoppers — in the end both fell in line with the majority.
The Tacoma process, in a nutshell.
In fact, when it finally came time for council members to stand by a position, only Joe Lonergan, who pushed a late-breaking and ultimately doomed substitute ordinance that would have charged a five-cent fee for paper and plastic bags, voted no.
Lonergan stuck to his guns, but even he could not save plastic bags in Tacoma.
So now that we’ve reached this point, we’re left to look back on their life and times.
In Tacoma last year, roughly 534 tons of clean plastic shopping and dry cleaning bags ended up in Tacoma landfills. Here, the number of plastic bags used each year is said to be 70 to 100 million.
When it comes to the plastic bag, there have been good times and bad, highs and lows, convenience and controversy.
Since plastic bags became a ubiquitous part of the American shopping experience, they’ve helped us tote things to and fro. They’ve made trips to the grocery store possible for those riding the bus, and trips to the local big-box retailer to purchase cheap, plastic goods easier, providing an equally cheap, plastic method of transportation for said goods.
They’ve been used as garbage liners, makeshift lunchboxes and — yes — pet waste receptacles. In the process, they’ve become beloved. With the passion that some cling to them as necessity, you’d think they were guns or religion (thanks for the zinger, Obama).
Still, it hasn’t all been fun and games. I attempted to speak to one sea turtle on the condition of anonymity this week, a gentle animal affected by the proliferation of cheap plastic bags. It didn’t respond.
Because it died with a belly full of plastic bags.
Worldwide, there are islands of trash in the ocean, the size of Texas, filled with plastic bags — which never fully biodegrade and will be our gift to the world long after we’re gone. Closer to home, Washington uses an estimated 2 billion disposable plastic bags each year, according to the Environment Washington Research and Policy Center.
In Tacoma, roughly 534 tons of clean plastic shopping and dry cleaning bags ended up in Tacoma landfills in 2015. And while, by weight, plastic shopping bags alone make up only 1 percent of Tacoma’s waste stream, the number of plastic bags used here each year is still said to be 70 to 100 million.
Results from across the globe have shown that regulations and fees can reduce the number of plastic bags that end up as litter and in the garbage.
For example, in Seattle, where a ban on plastic bags went into effect in 2012 … oh, never mind. You’re not interested in any comparisons with Seattle.
Goodbyes are always difficult. I get it. And bidding farewell to the plastic bag in Tacoma won’t be easy. I can only assume the American Progressive Bag Alliance is scheduling a touching memorial as we speak. I’m sure it will be a fitting tribute, catered on Styrofoam plates.
But years from now, we’ll look back on this moment with fond nostalgia.
We’ll all remember it as the day plastic bags died in Tacoma.
RIP, old friend.
And good riddance.