Unalaska approves plastic bag ban, to take effect Jan. 1

The Unalaska City Council voted Tuesday to prohibit distribution of single-use plastic shopping bags by island retailers, including Safeway (pictured) (Berett Wilber/KUCB)

Starting next year, Unalaska retailers won’t be allowed to distribute single-use plastic bags to their customers. If they do, they’ll be hit with $100 fines each time.

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The City Council passed the bag ban unanimously Tuesday night after about six months of discussion and overwhelming public support.

Councilor James Fitch said it’ll help reduce the amount of plastic littering local beaches and polluting the ocean.

“Currently, there’s a flotilla of plastic the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean,” Fitch said. “It’s getting in our food source. It’s killing animals. So I think this is a good start, and I think we need to make it go farther.”

With an economy dependent on healthy fisheries, several Unalaskans have called on the council to ban other pervasive plastics, like disposable straws and industrial pallet wrap.

Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson said that may be possible in the future.

“Next, we can look at plastic straws and other containers that we see in the bushes,” Robinson said. “You know, the plastic cups and forks and spoons — picnic stuff.”

But before they consider widening the ban, councilors are still deciding how retailers should handle their existing bag inventories.

Robinson has suggested the city buy out leftover stock — both to help business managers and to ensure bags are secured in the landfill instead of blowing around. The city manager is researching how much that would cost.

Councilor Shari Coleman’s proposal to delay the ban and let inventory run out failed to garner enough support.

Unalaska’s bag ban goes into effect Jan. 1. The island will join more than a dozen Alaska communities that have prohibited their distribution.