Edmonds City Council agrees to phased-in ban of plastic straws, cutlery

An image from Councilmember Dave Teitzel’s presentation.

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.

Community members pose with Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling following his Tueday night proclamation of June 1 as Gun Violence Awareness Day. (Photo by Teresa Wippel)

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

Map courtesy City of Edmonds

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

17 Replies to “Edmonds City Council agrees to phased-in ban of plastic straws, cutlery”

  1. How about a cat and dog tax… if City Councils are how we protect the environment? Cats destroy base animal species, dogs eat 30% of the nation’s meat, dog poop is in our storm drain runoff (maybe affecting the coho), and poop in plastic bags is 4% of landfill masses.

    Tort is how the government is supposed to protect the environment. The government is supposed to evaluate pollution damage and cleanup costs, then sue someone (such as straw manufacturers, straw users, or resellers). Liability is determined in court (not at city council open forums), there is a constitutional defense, then settlements are directly apportioned to damages and clean up costs. The City Council should sue, not ban things. I’m not sure they have the authority to ban things. That said, plastic straws are a problem, but nothing compared to the impact our comfort animals have on the environment.


  2. We should be outlawing Styrofoam as well. This stuff doesn’t break down in a reasonable time…It just breaks up.


  3. I’m starting to feel like I have less and less “rights”. I like straws. Okay, so lets go back to making them with paper. I’m suppose to feel elated we eliminate plastic straws and lose more of my rights???
    How about real issues?
    One example, if you complain your neighbor is doing damage to his property (and devaluing yours) city agrees with you. Neighbor has no building permits, city sends out cease and desist orders, but neighbor still builds….City will do NOTHING else as follow up (been over a year) still watching him build and by the lake???? City says their hands are tied? by whom????
    But we will not use plastic straws in Edmonds?
    What is this telling you????


  4. I want to thank council member Tietzel and city staff for the work they put in to come up with the resolution to phase out plastic straws etc. It is more complicated than it would seem Thanks from your marine life friends


  5. This month’s National Geographic vividly illustrates the need to eliminare all single-use plastic not just straws and plastic forks and spoons, etc. Plastic shopping bags too, which have been eliminated in nany businesses in Edmonds, thank you! I understand the previous comments on contribution of “Comfort animals” to the mess, but plastic pollution is a global issue. And should concern all of us,


    1. Id like to see the environment impact of drinking draws baked into the price of drinking straws. The only way to do that is a tax (which would be overthrown), or through tort. BP was gifted a $75m tort cap through the EPA ( formally the MMS), and that’s why they didn’t use a second blow-off preventer valve. The EPA indirectly caused the Deep Water Horizon oil spill by compromising the market signal and safe practices that Tort forces. Bag bans are currently be challenged by courts and will be overturned.


    1. Huh? You have a constitutional right to a plastic straw. The Constitution is a list of enumerated powers of government, not a list of Rights. The government doesnt have the enumerated power to ban straws. You have a constitutional right to beer, but you didn’t before the 21st and after the 18th Amendment. To ban something, you need a Constitutional Amendment. Straw makers have a constitutional right to make and sell straws. I’m amazed at the world’s fundamental perceptions.


  6. Great news on taking a step to cut down on plastic proliferation! We read over and over about the ubiquitous natures of plastics, now found in even micro-particles in seawater, in fish, in soil… Plastics can be useful, that’s clear, but we’ve become lazy about using them everywhere. Some plastics can be recycled, but small things like straws and cutlery are so easily simply dropped.

    Now I wish we could do something about Styrofoam “peanuts” in shipping – there are many less polluting alternatives.


  7. I would encourage all 21 st. Distric tresidents to contact there representative and senator to come up with a state wide ban on single use plastics and styrofoam


  8. With regard to traffic calming (wonderful phrase!) – Olympic View Drive remains the Edmonds Speedway and traffic is increasing steadily. The “radar signs” have done some good, and are good reminders, but the speed and density of the traffic, together with the curves and invisible driveways, are making OVD very dangerous. Speed Bumps, circles, patrols…?

    We nee help!


  9. Kudos to the City Council for moving further in the right direction to ban single use plastic items such as straws and plastic cutlery. Most of the time, when I get take-out food, it is to take home. I always tell the restaurant that I do not want them to include plastic cutlery as I use metal at home. Often it gets included anyway. I now check to make sure it is not in the bag and I frequently ask them not to put the food containers in a plastic bag. I can get them to the car and then into the house just fine without more plastic. I would really like to see a ban include beverage lids. With the number of fast food and coffee shops, these lids are proliferating and either do not get recycled or can not be recycled. I rarely buy a beverage out but when I do, I ask that no lid be put on it. A latte actually tastes better when it is not filtered through a plastic lid. Sometimes I have to argue with the cashier, who will tell me that “the law” requires a lid. No it doesn’t. Most shops are happy to leave the lid off on request. We should move to only offering lids on demand.Some customers need them, but many do not.


    1. Do you have a dog or a cat? Good job not accepting a lid. My grandfather would drive to the next town to buy gas that was a cent or two cheaper.


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