City Council Moves Forward With Single-Use Plastic Ban

The Bellingham City Council is moving forward with its ban of single-use plastics. The final vote was scheduled for May 24.

At a Committee of the Whole meeting on May 10, Councilmember and Committee Chair Hannah Stone said issues stemming from single-use plastic products pertain to littering, environmental pollution, and the health of birds and aquatic mammals, and that many of these products often are not effectively recycled. The council then voted unanimously to pass the ordinance.

Councilmember Daniel Hammill said the state law, SB5022, has a preemptive clause which would prohibit local ordinances that ban Styrofoam containers.

“I found out about the carve-out for the preemption only last Monday, and so this went pretty quick by government standards,” he said. 

The preemption is for ordinances introduced after April 1, 2021, or enacted after June 1, 2021.

Councilmember Michael Lilliquist said that because the ordinance was introduced a year ago and because the council is acting on it now, they would be able to get around the preemption and start the Styrofoam ban much earlier. The state senate bill set June 1, 2024 as the date expanded polystyrene would be banned in its final engrossed version, an extra year compared to earlier version of the bill.

Lilliquist said single-use plastics are basically instant garbage. He said the public works committee talked about the expense of handling unrecyclable plastics in what is a growing solid waste problem

“One of the virtues of plastic is that it’s durable and it takes them a very long time to break down,” he said, “which is exactly why you don’t want to use it for something you’re going to throw away after only one use.”

The draft ordinance the council introduced in 2020 was to begin going into effect in 2021, but everything was put on hold because of the pandemic. 

The ordinance draft has been updated with a new timeline for implementation and now has the ordinance begin taking effect on July 31, 2022. Generally, retail establishments will not be allowed to provide single-use plastic food service products with food and beverages. Some exceptions will be made, such as for flexible plastic straws and pre-packaged foods.

Until 2023, exemptions are allowed for produce bags, catering trays, food wrap and shrink wrap, containers for uniquely-shaped foods, flexible packaging that keep food fresh, containers and trays for certain hot food, and liquid-absorbing pads in food containers. If certain products do not have safe compostable alternatives by 2023, then exemptions for those products can be extended for another year.
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Giovanni A. Roverso is an Italian-American visual journalism major at Western Washington University. Portfolio and blog at  www.giovanniroverso.com .

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