Seattle has passed a ban on plastic carry-out bags.
Council Bill 117345 is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2012. The bill requires grocers and retailers to charge customers 5 cents for using paper bags. Retailers would retain the fee to cover the cost of using paper bags.
The bill is aimed particularly at cleaning up Puget Sound. Seattle uses approximately 292 million plastic bags annually, with only about 13 percent recycled, according to Seattle Public Utilities. Seattle has a recycling goal of 60 percent by 2012 and 70 percent by 2025. At the end of 2010 the rate was 53.7 percent.
"This bill is a great example of a broad and diverse coalition of people and organizations coming together to do the right thing for our environment," said the bill’s main sponsor, councilmember Mike O'Brien, chair of the Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhoods Committee, in a city news release.
The bill is supported by the Northwest Grocery Association, the Washington Restaurant Association, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, and some local independent grocers, such as Metropolitan Market, Town & Country Markets, PCC, and Central Co-op, as well as several environmental organizations.
However, a leading U.S. manufacturer of plastic bags, Hilex Poly, opposed the decision. “We are disappointed but not surprised by the result of today’s vote by the Seattle city council to rush toward a plastic bag ban and impose a paper bag tax,” said Mark Daniels, vice president of sustainability & environmental policy for Hilex, in a news release. “By voting to implement a ban on plastic bags, the city of Seattle misses the opportunity to lead the way toward the meaningful reduction of litter through increased statewide recycling efforts. As we have said from the start of this debate, a statewide solution that includes recycling is more comprehensive, encompassing not just a single product but all plastic bags, wraps and films.”
Seattle voters in 2009 rejected a 20-cent tax on plastic bags.
Seattle Public Utilities will work to educate businesses and the public in the next six months and after the law takes effect. The utilities' solid waste division will also monitor and enforce the ordinance.
Seattle’s law was modeled after one in Bellingham, Wash. Austin, Texas, is another major city that is considering a retail bag ban.