The Kirkland City agreed to consider an ordinance to temporarily suspend portions of their one month old law requiring merchants to charge a minimum of a nickel for each paper bag (exceptions do apply). The controversy arose when customers started complaining about being charged five cents for paper bags and local merchants responded by pushing the issue at City Hall. The concerns voiced were focused around the punitive nature, and intent, of the law which not only bans the distribution of single-use plastic bags but it also requires merchants to charge a nickel each time customers did not bring their own bag into the store.
According to Deputy Mayor Arnold, “other cities that have the similar bans that don’t allow the thicker bags also don’t have the fee.”
So, what really happened? This city council got caught overreaching once again and had to step back from their earnest desire for ever more progressive public policy. Councilmembers and staff admitted being surprised by the massive pushback from local merchants. The disconnect displayed by some on the council was rather shocking. Councilmember Kloba actually stated that in her view, the plastic bag ban and nickel paper bag fee requirement were "pro-merchant." She went on to describe how "everyone" she spoke with supported her view that the five cent fee was not only reasonable but necessary.
It seems at least one councilmember needs a more diversified circle of advisors.
After a lengthy debate, it is clear that the majority of the council believes wholeheartedly in the plastic bag and nickel fee law but felt the pressure of the merchants to make a change -- even if it is only for one year. The council voted 6-1 (Kloba) to suspend the required minimum five cent fee on paper bags for certain merchants. Councilmember Nixon was the lone voice wanting to permanently reverse the one month old law.
Exceptions to the one-year suspension of the minimum five cent paper bag fee:
The following business types are not part of the one year suspension and are still required to charge a minimum of five cents per paper bag:
- Supermarket and other grocery stores
- Convenience stores
- Pharmacies and drug stores
- Gas stations
- Warehouse clubs and supercenters
KING5.com ran this story on Kirkland's nickel per paper bag fee.
The one year suspension of the law is seen as an opportunity to educate the merchants as to how they can adapt their practices and benefit from the law. The City's Public Works Department claims the law is working just fine.
The focus of this change by the council is on smaller stores. Sales are often from people who make unplanned trips and impulse buys. The fee is automatically reinstated one year after the effective date of the suspension unless the council takes further action to extend it or make it permanent.
We applaud the Kirkland City Council for listening. We applaud them for temporarily suspending this punitive and ineffective policy. Make no mistake, the council has no interest in making this suspension permanent. Their intent is for merchants to see the light and join the council in support of the nickel per bag minimum fee requirement.
Check back in one year.