Come 2019, single-use plastic bags are history in Unalaska

When the clock strikes midnight, Unalaska's grocery stores will swap out plastic bags for paper.

Unalaska’s grocery stores will swap out plastic bags for paper. (Photo by Berett Wilber/KUCB)

As of Tuesday, single-use plastic bags will no longer be allowed in Unalaska.

The city council unanimously passed the ban in August — after six months of discussions and overwhelming public support.

“We’re trying to do things to shrink our footprint on refuse, and we have a landfill that potentially has 15 to 18 years of life left in it,” said City Manager Thomas E. Thomas. “We see that this plastic is beginning to affect our environment in detrimental ways, especially out here. We have members of our community that live on subsistence, and that begins to affect their quality of life as well.”

Under the ban, there is a $100 fine per violation for businesses that continue to provide disposable shopping bags. The ban does not apply to plastic bags used to package bulk items, like fruit.

But Thomas isn’t worried about violations.

“Because we’ve had good communication with the vendors who sell these disposable bags knowing the guidelines,” Thomas said. “They’ve had a good six months to get rid of them. But in the event there is a potential complaint, we’ll try to work with them to make sure there is no misunderstanding about the rules and guidelines before going into potential implementation of the fine.”

The vendors primarily impacted by the ban are the city’s grocery stores: Safeway and Alaska Ship Supply.

“There are 175 cases left, with 1,000 bags in a case,” said Alaska Ship Supply store manager Erik Hanson. “It’s better than where I thought we were going to be sitting at this point.”

Hanson said because the leftover bags have the Alaska Ship Supply logo, it’s unlikely anyone will want them. Instead the 175,000 bags will be sent to Alaska Ship Supply’s cardboard recycler, who also accepts plastics.

Alaska Ship Supply has started stocking reusable plastic bags and will also provide paper sacks.

“We’re hoping people will bring their own bags most of the time, and I’m sure locals will,” Hanson said. “It will be a learning curve for everyone else. It’s happened other places, and people will adjust and get used to it.”

Hanson estimates a paper bag costs about two-and-a-half times as much as a plastic sack. Safeway store manager Abe Palmer said switching to paper has quadrupled the cost of supplies for the store.

Safeway will also provide paper bags, but as of Jan. 1 Safeway will no longer provide free cardboard boxes for all patrons — Palmer said the boxes will only be for commercial fishing customers.

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