SEATTLE – The Seattle City Council voted Monday to ban single-use plastic bags from groceries and other retail stores, joining a growing trend among cities that embrace green values.
The ordinance, which was approved unanimously following months of discussion and debate, takes effect in July 2012. It includes a provision to charge a nickel fee for the use of paper bags, to encourage people to bring their own bags when they go shopping.
The paper bag fee is not unique. In Washington, D.C., businesses that sell food or alcohol must charge 5 cents for each carryout paper or plastic disposable bag.
The ban is expected to reduce pollution, free up landfill space and improve the environment. Seattle’s residents use 292 million plastic bags and 68 million paper bags a year. About 82 percent of paper bags are recycled, while only 13 percent of plastic bags are recycled.
Nearby communities such as Mukilteo, Edmonds, Bellingham and Portland also have banned plastic bags.
Numerous municipalities across the country – including Eugene, Ore., Austin, Texas, and Jackson, Wyo. – are also considering laws to restrict the use of plastic bags.
The Seattle council voted to charge a 20-cent fee on paper and plastic bags in 2008, but the plastics industry spent $1.4 million backing a referendum to overturn it. Voters defeated the fee in 2009.
Councilman Mike O’Brien, the bill’s prime sponsor, said he felt the months of work on this proposal, with lots of input from both businesses and environmental groups, resulted in an ordinance that will work for everyone.
He noted that low-income people who can show eligibility in a food assistance program will not be charged the paper bag fee.
Council President Richard Conlin commended the council and advocates for the positive way the ordinance evolved and the substantive public involvement in the process.
“It’s going to really make a difference for our environment,” he said.
During a short public comment session at the beginning of the meeting, four people dressed as “bag monsters” in costumes made from plastic bags serenaded the council with a holiday tribute. Only one person spoke out against the ordinance, saying she wondered if the ban would really help the environment and remove plastic already in the Puget Sound.
Katrina Rosen, field director for Environment Washington, a statewide advocacy group, called Seattle one of the largest cities to pass such a ban, but a similar ban in San Jose, Calif., goes into effect Jan. 1. San Jose has 946,000 residents compared with Seattle’s 608,000. A plastic bag ban in Los Angeles County, but not the city, went into effect in July.
The Northwest Grocery Association, which represents QFC, Safeway and Fred Meyer stores in the state, supports the ban, but a group representing independent grocery stores does not.