9611 SE 36th Street
Mercer Island, WA 98040
Contact: Ross Freeman
Email: ross.freeman@merce. . .
FAQ's -- Plastic Bag Ban
|No More Single-Use Plastic Carryout/Checkout Bags Starting April 22 2014|
When did the Council this pass Ordinance?
The second reading of the Ordinance and final adoption occurred at the regular meeting of the Mercer Island City Council held on December 2, 2013. To see more detail (agenda, materials, official minutes, archive video) click here.
Why not just recycle single-use plastic carryout bags?
After years of trying, plastic bag recycling isn’t catching on, even in cities like Seattle where its rate of 15 percent is reputed to be the highest in the country. Due to the low value and high contamination, some plastic film recyclers are leaving the business for lack of a market outlet. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of paper shopping bags are recycled in Seattle.
Why did the City ban lightweight plastic carryout bags but allow heavy-weight, thicker ones?
The thicker, stronger plastic bags – those more than 2.25 mils thick – have special uses for which paper is not a good option or not readily available; for example, very large bags for bedding and other bulky household items, or for protecting books and printed materials. These bags are not required to have any recycled content, but are often reusable.
I reuse all my plastic shopping bags for other things (e.g. lunch, errands, pet poop, etc). Now what will I do?
In other cities with bans, residents generally find substitutes for these uses. Most households will find that they still tend to acquire plenty of plastic bags, or that a reusable bag is suitable (e.g. for transporting lunch). Bags specifically for pet poop are available in grocery stores, and at dispensers in many City Parks.
Can MI residents recycle any plastic bags?
Yes, under the current guidelines from Republic Services, the City’s waste and recycling hauler, residents may recycle some plastic bags and stretch wrap/shrink film. Bags must be collected in a single clear bag, and tied off. No white or black plastic bags are allowed. More details here.
Do not recycle bags marked “biodegradable” or “compostable.” They are made of organic material which contaminates plastic recycling and should go in your Food and Yard Waste cart.
Why not just make retailers use biodegradable or compostable bags?
The City is trying to move away from single-use bags entirely. Biodegradable and compostable bags are designed to break down quickly, and are not durable enough to serve as carryout shopping bags. They work well as liners for kitchen food waste containers and Food and Yard Waste carts. Learn more about Food and Yard Waste on Mercer Island here. The only acceptable compostable bags in the greater Seattle region must have this logo:
Aren’t the 'non-woven polypropylene' bags sold as reusable bags by many retailers as much of a problem as the lightweight single-use/throwaway bags they’re replacing?
No. Once these bags have been reused a couple of dozen times their impact is less than that of the many dozens of single-use plastic bags they’ve replaced. They also carry two to three times as much as typical throwaway plastic bags, which are often doubled for strength by baggers at grocery stores.
Should I wash my reusable bags?
Yes, the Health Department will appreciate this. Canvas bags can be machine washed (be careful of shrinkage in the dryer). Other bags can be hand washed with hot soapy water, or sanitized occasionally with a dilute bleach solution in a spray bottle.
How long should a reusable bag last?
In most cities with ordinances, a reusable bag is expected to last at least 20 uses, but most will last much, much longer. According to some studies (e.g. the 2010 Florida Retail Bags Report) one reusable bag will replace from 56 to 315 disposable single-use bags in a single year.
Which businesses are affected by the ordinance?
All retail stores are subject to the new requirements, including grocery stores, department stores, hardware stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, restaurants, convenience stores and other retailers or vendors. Note that takeout food from restaurants is exempt due to public health and safety concerns.
Are any types of businesses exempt from the ordinance?
Food banks are exempt and may use any type of bag.
What about farmers markets, street fairs, festivals and events?
None of these activities are exempt. The ordinance specifically includes all these activities as “retail establishments” where single-use plastic carryout bags are banned. Vendors at farmers markets may use small bags of any type for vegetables and meat, and then place these in a larger paper carryout bag or a customer’s reusable bag.
What about to-go food vendors and food trucks?
There is an exemption in the ordinance that allows these vendors to safeguard public health and safety by providing customers with single-use plastic carryout bags for “prepared take-out foods and prepared liquids” that can leak or be spilled.
Can restaurants provide single-use plastic bags for takeout food?
Yes, but only if it involves “prepared take-out foods and prepared liquids” that can leak or be spilled, or might otherwise create public health and safety concerns. Other items sold by restaurants (cookbooks, collectibles, etc.) must not be contained in single-use plastic bags.
Does this affect what type of container restaurants use for takeout food?
No, this does not regulate food containers. However, the City encourages all food vendors to end the use of throw-away 'Styrofoam' (aka expanded polystyrene) containers, and instead use recyclable or compostable substitutes. Click here for information on Seattle's program addressing this issue.
Can grocers’ deli counters distribute single-use plastic bags for prepared takeout food?
Yes, they are treated like restaurants with takeout food. Food prepared on-site such as roasted chicken and soups can be placed in protective plastic bags at the deli counter as needed to prevent leaks or spills.
Are there any restrictions on retailers choosing to charge a fee on all bags?
The Mercer Island ordinance allows retailers to provide all (permitted) bags for free, or charge for each bag distributed, or use a hybrid model.
Email Ross Freeman, Sustainability Manager, with additional questions