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Seattle council approves shopping bag fee

Beginning in January, customers can bring own sacks or pay

SEATTLE – Seattle is taking a different approach to the “paper or plastic” debate.

Instead of banning plastic shopping bags, the City Council on Monday approved a 20-cent charge for consumers who want to bring home a disposable paper or plastic shopping bag from convenience, drug and grocery stores.

The proposal passed by a vote of 6-1, with Councilwoman Jan Drago casting the dissenting vote.

“The answer to the question ‘Paper or plastic?’ has officially become ‘Neither,’ ” Mayor Greg Nickels said in a statement. “The best way to reduce waste is not to create it and today we have made that a little easier in Seattle.”

City officials estimate Seattle residents use 360 million paper or plastic bags each year, and they believe the ban will cut plastic bag use in half.

Before the fee goes into effect in January, the city plans to distribute at least one free reusable bag per household, and it will consider providing more free bags to low-income shoppers.

“This is a voluntary fee,” said Council President Richard Conlin, who worked with Nickels on the proposal. “No one has to pay it. You only have to pay it if you choose not to use reusable bags.”

By a vote of 7-0, the council also approved a two-part ban affecting plastic foam containers.

The bag fee and a ban on foam containers for food from takeout restaurants will take effect in January. A ban on foam trays used for raw meat and seafood at grocery stores is set to take effect in July 2010. Starting in July 2010, the ban will expand to all plastic food containers and plastic utensils. Food-service businesses will have to start using biodegradable or recyclable containers and utensils.

The Seattle bag vote came a week after Los Angeles banned plastic shopping bags from stores. That ban, which takes effect in July 2010, would offer shoppers the alternative of paying a 25-cent fee to take home a paper or biodegradable bag or bringing their own bag.

Los Angeles officials said they would not implement their ban if the state passes a bill imposing bag recycling requirements on stores and requires at least a 25-cent charge per bag.

Environmentalists applauded the Seattle action, saying it shows residents care more about oceans and forests than convenience.

“People who walk on our beaches, around our lakes, or boat on Puget Sound know that plastics are no joke,” said Heather Trim, toxics program manager for People for Puget Sound.

“The planet is smiling today. No more frivolous plastic bag waste clogging her arteries for 1,000 years,” said Dan Lundquist, of Bring Your Own Bag.



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