Northwest News

Councilman seeks to overturn Lacey plastic bag ban

A Lacey city councilman, armed with some recent data, is set to discuss the city’s current plastic bag ban, a ban he hopes can be overturned or at least put to a vote of the people.

Councilman Lenny Greenstein has initiated the conversation, and the larger discussion will take place during a Lacey City Council work session set for 7 p.m. Thursday at Lacey City Hall, 420 College St. SE.

Lacey enacted the ban along with Olympia, Tumwater and unincorporated Thurston County. The ordinance, which was put together by Thurston County, took effect in July 2014. The ordinance banned single-use, lightweight plastic bags typically found at grocery stores. Shoppers in those communities now use re-usable bags or pay 5 cents for a paper bag.

Yelm, Tenino, Rainier and Bucoda have not enacted the ban.

The Thurston County Solid Waste Advisory Committee, made up of elected officials from each jurisdiction, began the plastic bag ban ordinance process more than two years ago.

But as part of the process in developing the ordinance, the stakeholders agreed to a follow-up survey six months after the ordinance took effect, said Terri Thomas, waste reduction supervisor for the county.

The follow-up online survey, which took place between November 2014 and mid-January 2015, showed the following results on a key statement: “Now that the ordinance has been in place for more than four months, as a customer, I think the ordinance:

Should be removed:

•  Olympia: 41 percent of 2,061 responses.

•  Lacey: 57 percent of 1,365 responses.

•  Tumwater: 55 percent of 620 responses.

•  Unincorporated Thurston County: 60 percent of 2,741 responses.

“The people have spoken,” Greenstein said Sunday about the 57 percent figure in Lacey, adding that he has talked to business owners and community members since the ban took effect.

“My sense is that they are not happy with the ban,” he said.

The Lacey City Council approved the ban on a 4-3 vote in February 2014. Voting in favor of putting the plastic bag ban to a vote of the people were Greenstein, Councilman Jason Hearn and Councilman Virgil Clarkson. Voting in favor of the ban were Mayor Andy Ryder, Deputy Mayor Cynthia Pratt, Councilman Jeff Gadman and Councilman Michael Steadman.

“Passing this is a huge mistake,” Greenstein said at the time.

Pratt said Sunday that she is more supportive of the ban than ever, saying she has seen a reduction in litter and no longer sees plastic bags flying around when she goes for a walk. She also hasn’t heard any complaints.

“I don’t see it as a problem,” she said.

Greenstein countered that a far better solution than banning the bags would be to increase voter awareness. Plastic bags can be recycled, and prior to the ban, some grocery stores had bins where customers could dispose of them to be recycled, he said.

County waste reduction supervisor Thomas said she hopes the city can hold off on a decision until the county has completed another survey at the two-year mark of the ordinance. It is around that time, July 2016, when the county plans to hire a survey consultant, she said.

She also wishes that the first follow-up survey had taken place a year after the ordinance took effect, rather than at six months, because people were still adjusting to it.

“Change is hard,” she said.

Thomas, too, thought soliciting input over the holidays for an online survey, which included businesses, was ill-timed because they were busy with holiday sales. Four verified businesses in Lacey responded to the survey, she said.

“It’s always a huge transition, and this needs to be given a chance,” Thomas said of the ban.

Click here for more information about the recent survey data, including comments from those who took the survey.