Bingen City Hall

Bingen City Council scheduled a public hearing on the proposed checkout bag ordinance for 7 p.m. on Oct. 1 at Bingen City Hall.

The Bingen City Council heard further comments from members of Community Upcycle but stalled a vote on the proposed regulation on single-use checkout bags, citing low attendance to the public hearing on Sept. 16 and a need to fix some of the language within the proposed ordinance.

According to a public notice published by the City of Bingen, the City plans to hold a second public hearing on the proposed ordinance at 7 p.m., Tuesday Oct. 1 at Bingen City Hall. 

 “I’m not sure that I’m ready to make a decision right now because I just need to think about it a little more,” said Councilor Catherine Kiewit, citing a lack of relevant information that was sent by the Community Upcycle organization in favor of the ordinance but did not reach the councilmembers in time for the public hearing.

When questioned about her concerns, Kiewit said “basically, the idea of government telling a business how to run their business … I tend to err on the side of [letting] people make these choices on their own.”

“However, I am pro-protecting the environment and I fully support people using recyclable bags or multi-use bags,” she added.

“This would be a good opportunity for the businesses to come in if they had any major issues,” said Councilor Isolde Schroder of the scheduled public hearing.

Becky Miles, founder of Community Upcycle, the group who brought the proposal to the council, announced the results of the survey of local businesses in Bingen, which asked whether they were in support of the proposal. According to the survey, most businesses were either publicly supportive of the proposal or held concerns about the ordinance but were in support of limiting the use of single-use plastic bags. Only two businesses were opposed to the proposal. She also collected over twenty signatures from Bingen residents in support of the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance, which aims “to reduce the negative impacts to the city and the environment from disposable bags,” would be one of many similar ordinances adopted in municipalities across Washington state.

The ordinance would not only prohibit single-use plastic carryout bags but would also enforce a 10-cent charge for reusable plastic bags and “barrel sized paper bags.”

Under the ordinance, retail establishments would further be prohibited from offering a rebate or otherwise reimbursing a customer any portion of the 10-cent charge. They would also be required to indicate on receipts the number of paper bags and reusable plastic bags that were purchased.

Under the definitions of the proposal, a “single-use plastic carryout bag” means “any carryout bag under 2.25 mil in thickness and that is made predominantly of plastic derived from petroleum or from bio-based sources.” For a plastic bag to be bought and sold in retail establishments within the City of Bingen under the proposed ordinance, the bag would have to be made from a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled material. It must also display the minimum percentage of post-consumer recycled material and display wording that the bag is reusable.

More generally, for a bag to be deemed reusable under the proposed ordinance, it is required that the bag have a minimum lifetime of 125 uses and is machine-washable or made from a “durable material that may be cleaned or disinfected.”

A paper bag would be regulated under the terms in the ordinance if it meets the size standards laid out in the proposal as a bag “with approximate dimensions in 12 inches wide x 7 inches deep x 13-18 inches tall or a capacity of 1,100 to 1,600 cubic inches.”

Notable exceptions to the ordinance are bags that would remain unaffected, such as bags used for bulk items like fruits and vegetables as well as bags meant to hold hardware items like nuts and bolts.

Containers that would also be exempt from this ordinance are such where “dampness or sanitation might be a problem” like when they hold meat, frozen foods and flowers among others, as well as bags that contain prepared foods or bakery goods. 

Customers using a voucher or electronic benefits card issued under programs such as Women Infants and Children (WIC), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Washington State Food Assistance Program (FAP) would not be charged the 10-cent fee for the purchase of a reusable carryout bag.

During the city’s first public hearing on the issue, Schroder raised questions regarding the nature of the license, and whether that was separate from the business licenses that businesses need to operate within City limits. City Attorney Chris Lanz proposed that the language should be changed in section 8.22.080 of the proposal from “annual licenses” to “annual business licenses” to ensure that it would not mean there would be a separate license needed to charge customers for reusable bags.

Community Upcycle, the group who brought this proposal to the council, says the proposal was influenced by numerous ordinances, including the ban which passed in Oregon and another proposal which failed in the Washington State Legislature earlier this year.

Twenty-six separate jurisdictions in Washington state have enacted similar ordinances which either restrict the commercial use of single-use plastic bags or establish a fee on single-use plastic bags, according to bagtheban.com, which is a project created by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a group that represents the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry and advocates against plastic bag bans and taxes.

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