Sometimes ideology can move a little too fast for reality.
Some local businesses have had problems finding replacement packaging and utensils after the Bainbridge Island City Council passed a law banning many plastic items. The goal is to reduce climate change.
But Lisa Alfieri, co-owner of Commuter Comforts near the BI ferry terminal, said the new law has been a struggle for her business. “All we do is take-out and beverages so we’re pretty impacted by this new ordinance,” she said at the Jan. 17 council meeting. They will be even more affected when they expand into the ferry terminal in the future as they add take-home dinners to their menu.
Alfieri said it’s a tough time for the city to pass this law, coming on the heels of the pandemic. Their coffee stand was shut down for five months, and, like many others, has had issues finding employees. And there has been the supply chain issue. “We couldn’t get a 12-ounce cup to save your life,” she said.
They have found in many cases the new materials they have to use are more expensive, so they need to include that in their pricing. “We’ve also had to educate our customers, which has been a burden on us,” Alfieri said, adding tourists no nothing about the law, while some locals do. “We’ve been dealing with a lot.”
Ironically, before COVID Commuter Comforts had been using compostable products. It tried to get others in town to do the same, and encouraged the city to put compost bins around Winslow. “Our hope was to have more infrastructure” to support composting. But when the coronavirus hit, they needed to save money so they switched products.
Because of all that, and now adding inflation to it, Alfieri asked the city to consider not fining businesses for a year so they can continue to work on all of these issues.
Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said later that she wouldn’t have a problem with that.
Other business input
BI chamber director Stephan Goldby and Joe Raymond, general manager of Pleasant Beach Village, also spoke on behalf of the business community.
Like Alfieri, Goldby said this happened right behind COVID when “small business owners were still in a time of crisis.” While many owners support the ideology of the Waste Reduction law, “We’re in the messy middle of this process.”
He said in the real world price and availability of the new products has been a problem. He said front-line workers, who are often young, have had to take the wrath of customers who don’t like being charged 25 cents for a cup, which is part of the new law. “They are loud and frank,” he said of the customers, adding having signs at the point of sale has helped.
And take-out, like Alfieri’s business, is disproportionately affected, he said. “I don’t want to feather over how rough it is on some of our small businesses right now.”
Raymond was more positive in his comments, saying, “It’s gone a lot smoother than anticipated.”
He said they started doing more take-out and delivery during the pandemic, so they were already moving away from plates and things that had to be washed. And they were already using many non-plastic materials.
“Thanks for telling us what’s really happening,” Mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said, adding the city has tried to tell the public over and over again, but apparently that wasn’t enough. She encouraged people to complain to the city, rather than the front-line workers. “We voted for it not their employee.”
Hytopoulos said they passed the law to reflect the community’s value of fighting climate change. They want to keep plastic out of Puget Sound, just like when they banned plastic bags. She said many in the community must not be making the connection. “I want us to feel good about this.”
Deputy mayor Jon Quitslund said they are trying to change the culture, and this is just one example of waste reduction, and there is so much more. “We put convenience ahead of so many things.”
City manager Blair King said the chamber visited every business at least twice to explain the new law. The city also sent out mailers, ran advertisements and had a vendor fair to explain what’s going on to the public. He said it’s taken a lot of time and work to try to change people’s habits and attitudes.
Autumn Salamack, the city’s climate officer, said she has been helping businesses find new products to take the place of the old plastic ones. She said some businesses had difficulty getting supplies during COVID, so when they could get them they bought too much. So, instead of the law taking effect Jan. 1 it was delayed three months.
Also, Town & Country has received a temporary waiver for reusable dishes for onsite dining. BI Cinema also received one because it lacks a dishwasher. Similar requests are anticipated, including one from the school district.
The presentation showed businesses have had success finding alternatives for cups, some utensils and containers, but have had difficulty finding things like spoons and take-out boxes.
The law requires food establishments to use reusables or home compostable products rather than plastic. Customers are asked to bring their own cups or be charged a 25-cent disposable cup fee. Plus they are encouraged to use their own reusable to-go containers. Examples include: using mental utensils for onsite dining, use food service ware made of natural fibers, and single-use food service products must only be distributed upon request.