Paper, No Plastic in Tacoma

The Tacoma City Council plans to move forward in the plan to ban plastic bags throughout the entire city. Tacoma will become the 15th city in the entire country to pass an ordinance of this nature. This change in law provides a new spin on the question “Paper or Plastic?”

Bellingham and Seattle are among the 15 other cities who have a plastic bag ban ordinance currently in place. “Paper, no plastic” will become the new trend among Tacoma grocery stores.

On the City of Tacoma website, a draft of the plan lays out five “basics” of the plastic bag ban.

  1. Retailers can no longer provide single-use plastic carryout bags— which, according to the draft is, “any bag that is provided by a Retail Establishment at the point of sale to a customer for use to transport or carry away purchases, such as merchandise, goods or food, from the retail establishment.”
  2. Paper bags and reusable bags may be provided, but a five cent charge will be processed. This will be called a “pass-through” charge, which by definition is the price a customer pays because of a company’s increase in cost.
  3. Retailers may not collect a pass-through charge from anyone with a voucher or electronic benefits card. Examples of this would be the Women Infants and Children (WIC) support program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) support program, Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as Basic Food, and the Washington State Food Assistance Program FAP.
  4. The number of carryout bags provided will be indicated on the customer’s receipt.
  5. A phase-in period will be administered for retailers to use up their extra stock bags. Adjustments of Point of Sale (POS) systems for pass-through charges will also take place, which could take several months.

Plastic bags account for less than 1% of Tacoma’s overall waste production. However, according to the Environment Washington Research & Policy Center, “An estimated two billion disposable plastic shopping bags are used in Washington State each year and most end up in the landfill or as litter.”

Tacoma’s main concern, according to their website, is the issue of the city being littered with plastic bags, and its water, harming the local marine wildlife. Dr. Ellen Moore says, “Banning plastic bags is a good thing. I mean, reducing the number of plastic bags that we actually have near a marine environment is essential.”

There has been no official fee set, however, the City of Tacoma website says, “If action is taken, enforcement might include self-reporting, random inspections and/or complaint-based follow up, and penalties could include written warnings and fines.” The fees will typically stay with the retailers, but in some cases, some or all of the fine will be given to a local environmental clean-up organization.

Moore is no stranger to putting a lid on plastic usage throughout the city. She is an active member in the UWT community, she is a part of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability and is also running an on-campus campaign to limit plastic use.

The campaign is called “Plastic Surgery: Changing the face of the planet, one bottle at a time.” The campaign is attempting to change the culture surrounding plastic, much like what was done with tobacco in the early 2000s. “The initial push to ban plastic bags came from the Sustainable Tacoma Commission,” says the Commission’s previous member Moore. “That push really came from a few members, who had really pushed hard for this.”

“We looked around at Bellingham, Seattle, San Francisco, we looked at all these places that were banning bags and thought, ‘Oh well, of course, we need to be doing the same thing.’ But the City Council was slow to act on anything that was suggested. I’ll speak for myself when I say that I was really frustrated by that really slow pace that occurred.”

Moore resigned from STC in January during the first official meeting regarding the methanol plant. “If one was speaking pessimistically, then one might say that there was some pressure on the city to vote for the plastic bag ban.”

In speaking about the possible reasons why the bag banning ordinance didn’t happen earlier when STF proposed it, Moore could not pin-point the exact reason. However, she did have something to say about the significance of the timing of the ordinance, considering in recent months the City Council has been heavily criticized for their decisions concerning the methanol plant.

Moore spoke on the timeliness of the ordinance; it should be noted that Moore’s comments are completely speculative, as she did not have the official reason why. “It might have happened anyway, but it does seem a little contradictory that while we would be banning plastic bags here that we would be, through our own production of methanol, enabling China to make even more.”

The plastic bag ban ruling comes at a time where groups like Redline Tacoma and Metha-No have heavily criticized the City Council for their actions surrounding sustainability. An online public and business survey were issued to the people of Tacoma regarding the plastic bag ban, which is a part of what the City Council looked at while making their decision.

According to a March 27th News Tribune survey article by Adam Ashton, “2,200 people showed no clear majority in support of a ban. About 48% of respondents want the city to outlaw disposable bags, 42% opposed the proposal and the remainder indicated they were on the fence.”

With all of that said, plastic bags will still be banned throughout the city. Currently, there is no set time for when the ordinance will begin.