The Edmonds City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday that states the city will phase in over 18 months a ban on single-use plastic in the city, including straws, stirrers and cutlery.
The vote came late in the evening following a lengthy council agenda that included consideration of several other key issues. Among them: a decision to maintain the existing 15-foot first-floor ceiling height in the city’s downtown BD1 zone, and a review of the city’s Six Year Transportation Improvement Program, which drew testimony from residents unhappy that their busy street wasn’t included on a list of traffic calming projects.
Early in the meeting, the council chambers were filled with people wearing orange as Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling read a proclamation declaring June 1 as Gun Violence Awareness Day.
Councilmember Dave Teitzel had led the effort to institute a gradual ban on single-use plastic items, and the council vote followed a presentation by Teitzel and the city’s recycling coordinator, Steve Fisher. The presentation underscored the damage that plastics are causing to the marine environment, with bits of plastic being discovered in marine life and plastic straws being among the top beach polluters.
“About 500 million single-use plastic straws are used in our country every day,” Teitzel said. A number of cities have banned single-use straws, stirrers and cutlery, including Seattle, which will start enforcing its ban this July, he added.
Those facts had been emphasized earlier in the meeting, when citizens supporting the ban lined up to testify before the council. Among them was Annie Crawley, an internationally-known underwater photographer, dive instructor and ocean cleanup advocate who lives in Edmonds.
“Plastic lives forever,” said Crawley, who encouraged the council to “push the envelope” and go beyond not only the current ban being considered but also the city’s plastic bag ban, implemented in 2010. “The ban that got passed for plastic bags is for grocery stores,” Crawley said. “I was served in a restaurant three days ago and was brought my to-go food in plastic and plastic bags.
“I’m urging you to consider this measure, take it seriously,” she said.
In his later remarks before the council, Teitzel acknowledged that the food industry has expressed concerns about the ban because compostable items are more expensive than plastics, and in the past they have been less durable. He explained that business owners can offset the cost differential between plastic and compostable goods by offering single-use items on demand. In addition, the durability of compostable items has improved in recent years, he said.
Local businesses — including Taco Time, PCC, Walnut Street Coffee and several others — are already taking steps to use compostables. “Businesses are moving this direction. They know it’s the right thing to do,” Teitzel said.
The resolution takes a “multi-phased approach,” Teitzel explained. By the end of 2018, the City of Edmonds will no longer provide single-use straws, stirrers or cutlery on city premises. Beginning in January 2019, vendors at city events — Taste Edmonds or the Edmonds Arts Festival for example — will be prohibited from using those products. In early 2020, a city council ordinance would be introduced to put the ban into effect.
This gradual 18-month approach gives the city time to work with food industry stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition and give those businesses a chance to use up their plastic products “so we don’t create an economic hardship on them,” Teitzel said.
Meanwhile, the city will start encouraging businesses to offer such items on demand, instead of automatically providing them.
In addition, the city will ask waste management companies that serve the city’s residents to highlight that compostable items can be placed in yard waste bins.
Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas asked if the city’s largest users of these items — the Edmonds School District and Swedish Edmonds Hospital — had been notified about the potential ban. Teitzel replied that he had spoken to each entity and they understand the need for the shift to compostables.
Councilmembers agreed it would also be important to conduct outreach — including providing materials in different languages — to those businesses in Edmonds where the owners may not be fluent English speakers.
Council President Mike Nelson said it was also important to ensure that composting would be available for all Edmonds businesses before the ban is implemented
Regarding the matter of a possible change to first-floor ceiling height in the city’s BD1 zone (see pink area in map for location), the discussion was short and a decision was swift to maintain the status-quo height requirement of 15 feet. The discussion fell into two camps. Councilmembers Fraley-Monillas, Nelson and Johnson argued that such an idea, as proposed for study by the Citizens Economic Development Commission, could threaten the quaint charm of the downtown. Councilmembers Teitzel, Tibbot and Mesaros stated that the idea was worth studying, and could provide some useful information about whether any type of development would be warranted in the area.
In the end, Councilmember Johnson’s motion to maintain the 15-foot first-floor ceiling height in the BD1 zone was approved on a 4-2 vote, with Teitzel abstaining.
Another lively part of the evening involved a group of about 20 neighbors who live along Pine Street between 6th and 7th, and have seen increased traffic along their street as people use it as an alternate route to get to the Edmonds-Kingston ferry. Commuters are not only racing down the hill but they are also running through stop signs, the speakers told the council. Neighbors have been asking for traffic calming measures in the area, such as a traffic circle, and were unhappy that their concerns were not addressed in the city’s current transportation planning document, known as the TIP.
(The TIP lists funded, partially funded, and unfunded city projects planned or needed over the next six calendar years.)
“Commuters are in a hurry and they go as fast as they can,” said neighborhood resident Linda Niemi, adding that drivers don’t watch for pedestrians or children and they don’t allow for vehicles turning into and out of their driveways.
“We are asking you to try something,” she added. “It doesn’t have to be permanent but we should at least try something.”
After hearing from the citizens, councilmembers asked City of Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams if there were ways to address neighbors’ concerns. Williams and Mayor Earling said they would explore possible solutions, and would also talk with the police chief about enforcement of traffic laws.
In other action, the council:
- Approved a resolution stating the city’s intent to develop an update to the Shoreline Master Program — for consideration in 2019 — that is consistent with Department of Ecology recently adopted rules for conducting the periodic review.
- Heard an annual report from the Port of Edmonds.
— By Teresa Wippel