Recycled paper bags required in plastic bag ordinance

On April 18, in a 2-1 vote, San Juan County passed changes to a plastic bag ban ordinance, originally adopted in October. The changes simplified the definition of a reusable bag and mandated the use of recycled paper bags, instead of other paper bags.

“It was [passed] to strengthen the language and be consistent with the town’s ordinance,” said Mark Herrenkohl, county environmental resources interim manager, to the Journal.

Councilman Rick Hughes voted against the changes because he feared some businesses, like his pharmacy on Orcas, would not have the required recycled paper bags, which are made of at least 40 percent recycled materials, according to the ordinance.

Councilman Bill Watson voted for the changes because it clarified his understanding of the ordinance’s original intention. Watson said county staff assured most businesses interpreted the original ordinance to only allow recyclable paper bags.

“I don’t anticipate any big issues from this,” said Watson to the Journal, about businesses adopting the new regulations.

A joint agreement brought town and county officials to collaborate on the same language in both municipalities’ ordinances. The town requested to change two sections a day before their February adoption. Herrenkohl agreed and, to ensure the town and county had the same procedures, presented amendments to reflect those changes at the March 6 county council meeting. It was also discussed on March 20.

Herrenkohl said he will distribute a fact sheet on the changes to county businesses. The document, titled “FAQ Plastic Bags,” is made of 28 questions and answers and is currently on the county website’s Waste Management page.

Herrenkohl hoped the ban would encourage retailers to not use plastic, but Kings Market and Marketplace, owned by the same person, will continue to use the approved thicker plastic bags, defined as a reusable plastic bag by the ordinance.

“We were trying to encourage retailers to stay away from plastic, but they chose not to,” said Herrenkohl to the Journal. “I’m a little disappointed.”

He added that the requirement of a plastic bag at 2.25 mils thick is consistent throughout Puget Sound, which is why the county used the language. The next step, he mused, may be to ban plastic bags from the county, entirely.

“Light weight plastic bags are a leader contributor to litter,” said Watson. “We’ve had a discussion for public outreach for both residents and visitors to try to instill the cultural shift to take your canvas bags with you when you go shopping.”

Both the town and county’s ordinances are set to take effect on May 1.