Plastic bag ban a good start

Jan 04, 2012

Although there is some controversy over the citywide plastic bag ban that was passed Dec. 12, we commend the Mukilteo City Council for passing the ban.

Following the lead of the cities of Edmonds and Bellingham, Mukilteo is taking responsibility for the local environment – the beautiful Puget Sound in our backyards – and trying to limit plastic bags pollution.

It is our hope that cities all over Washington will soon follow suit and that it will lead to a statewide ban.

It is estimated that the average American household uses 520 to 1,000 plastic bags per year.

Multiply that by the nearly 8,550 households in Mukilteo, and that is more than 4.4 million bags. That’s a lot of bags.

Plastics of all kinds are a problem. They fill our landfills, and litter our streets, our streams and our beaches, and often end up floating into the Sound.  For a world so dependant on plastics, a ban of plastic bags is a good start.

As written, Mukilteo’s bag ban encourages the use of reusable bags while limiting the use of plastic bags.

There are some exemptions. For example, dry-cleaning bags, disposable bags for takeout food and those used in grocery stores for produce and meat are still going to be available.

Since the council passed the ban, the city has been getting a lot of calls from residents wondering which bags they’ll be able to use.

The short answer is, they can use whatever bag they want because the ban only regulates Mukilteo businesses.

Ideally, however, what city officials would like to see is shoppers relying on reusable bags, which are usually made of canvas or durable plastic.

They can also use biodegradable or “compostable” bags – such as those made out of corn or potatoes – for their shopping.

Paper bags are also OK, and will still be provided by retailers, but shoppers will be charged 5 cents for each paper bag they use.

The ban takes effect next year, on Jan. 1, 2013. That means we – shoppers and retailers alike – will get a year to transition away from plastic.

Some argue the council should have put the issue to a public vote. Nobody likes to feel the government is taking his rights away. But in a representative democracy, we elect our neighbors to make these decisions for us. If you don’t like their actions, you can vote them out. But we doubt anyone is going to lose his seat over this decision.

Research is inconclusive as to how much plastic hurts or harms the whales, turtles, seals, sea birds and other marine animals in the Sound.

However, there are these findings by the group Environment Washington, with the mission of keeping plastic out of the Sound, to mull over:

• Washington state uses more than 2 billion plastic bags per year. Nationwide, less than 6 percent are recycled.

• Researchers at the University of Washington have found plastic pollution in every water sample they have taken from the Sound.

• In the Strait of Juan de Fuca, researchers found that 1 in 10 gulls had consumed plastic, half of which was thin-film, like what plastic bags are made of.

• In 2010, a dead grey whale washed up on the beach in Seattle. It had 20 plastic bags in its stomach.

Even if research concludes that plastic bags don’t harm the marine animals that ingest them – not likely – do we really want a petroleum-based product that may save us a little time and effort to end up in the belly of a whale?  We think not.

Harmful or not, plastic bags are still pollution, and a blight on our beautiful environment, when they enter the Sound.
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