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Seattle Bans Plastic Bags
Vol. 877 
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 In 2008, city officials implemented a 20-cent plastic bag fee, but the law was repealed a year later following an aggressive lobbying effort.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 the consumer."

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.

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