Bags Begone

Seattle targets disposable shopping bags.

The Seattle City Council has voted to impose a fee on the use of disposable shopping bags to encourage residents to embrace reusable options. Effective Jan. 1, 2009, Seattle residents will pay an extra 20 cents for paper or plastic disposable bags provided at convenience, drug and grocery stores.

“[This fee is] an integral part of the city's Zero Waste strategy — and translating Seattle's environmental values into concrete actions,” says Richard Conlin, city council president, in a press release. The strategy, which was passed in July 2007 and also includes food waste and compost initiatives, is designed to reduce the city's carbon footprint and protect the environment.

According to Seattle Public Utilities, 360 million disposable bags are used in the city each year. The new law focuses on the businesses that represent the source of roughly 70 percent of all of the disposable bags distributed throughout the city. The fee does not apply to clear plastic bags used for individual items such as fruits, vegetables and bulk items. Larger retailers will be allowed to keep 5 cents of every fee collected to cover administrative costs, and businesses that gross less the $1 million annually will be allowed to keep the entire fee.

The council also approved a ban on foam trays commonly used for raw meat and seafood, effective July 2010.

“These laws are a great example of how government can help the market to implement necessary environmental change,” says Tim Burgess, city council member, in a press release. “I support this particular solution because it maintains the ability of consumers to choose whether to use their own reusable bags, or pay a fee for disposable bags provided by the store.”