Seattle Bans Plastic Bags
December 20, 2011
The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a hotly-debated
ordinance yesterday that bans the single use of plastic bags in grocery,
retail, convenience and home-improvement stores. The
bill also mandates that most ustomers pay five cents
to buy a paper bag, a provision largely designed to urge consumers to purchase environmentally-friendly
reusable totes. "The hope is by passing this legislation we can help shift
behavior and get more people to use reusable bags instead of disposable
bags," said Councilmember Mike O'Brien.
This is not the first time Seattle
leaders have moved to legislate the use of plastic
bags. In 2008, city officials implemented a 20-cent plastic bag fee, but the
law was repealed a year later following an aggressive lobbying effort. The
campaign to repeal the fee was led by the plastics industry, which spent
approximately $1.4 million to win a reversal. It is unclear if leading
manufacturers of plastics intend to fight the new ban.
"By voting to implement a ban on plastic bags, Seattle
misses the opportunity to lead the way toward the meaningful reduction of
litter through increased statewide recycling efforts," said Mark Daniels,
vice president for Hilex Poly, the biggest producer
of plastic bags in the U.S. "This is bad policy for the environment and
It's estimated that Seattle
residents use 292 million plastic bags and 68 million paper bags every year.
Only about 13% of plastic bags are recycled in the city, though, according to
studies. As currently written, the new ordinance does not apply to produce or
restaurant take-out bags and exempts low-income residents from having to pay a
paper bag fee. The bill will now be sent to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn for approval and is scheduled to go into effect in
July of 2012. The paper bag fee will continue until at least December of 2016
and could then be extended by legislators.
While Seattle's ban is on the verge of becoming law, leaders
in several other communities across the country – including Austin, TX, and
Eugene, OR – are also considering regulating the use of plastic bags.