Seattle, Washington, USA Bans Plastic Bags

Seattle, Washington, USA Bans Plastic Bags

Changing Waste Generation Behaviors

Seattle, Washington, the 15 largest metropolitan area in the nation (1), has banned plastic carry-out bags.  Joining the global movement to protect marine wildlife, the ordinance will take effect on July 1st, 2012.

Located in the northeast corner of the State of Washington, Seattle is only 114 miles south of the Canadian border.  Seattle is a major seaport situated on Puget Sound.  Lake Washington is on the east side of the city.

The ordinance cites the Washington State Legislature in RCW 70.95.010(4) which found that it is "necessary to change manufacturing and purchasing practices and waste generation behaviors to reduce the amount of waste that becomes a governmental responsibility" and in RCW 70.95.010(8)(a), the Washington State Legislature established waste reduction as the first priority for the collection, handling, and management of solid waste.

Recycling & Waste Reduction

Seattle alone uses approximately 292 million plastic bags annually, only 13% of which are recycled, according to Seattle Public Utilities.   In 2007,  the City Council adopted, the Mayor concurring, Resolution 30990, which reaffirmed the City's 60% recycling goal and set a longer-term goal of 70% recycling along with targets for waste reduction.

"We know that recycling alone cannot protect Puget Sound and our ocean waters from these plastic bags," said City Councilmember Mike O'Brien. "Of course people are not intentionally littering their bags into Puget Sound, but with so many in circulation, bags are ending up there, causing real damage to habitats and wildlife. Bringing our own reusable bags when we go shopping is a simple step we can all take that will protect our environment and reduce unnecessary waste."  Councilmember O'Brien is also chair of the Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhoods Committee.

Councilmember O'Brien, who was the prime sponsor of the bill,  Council Bill 117345,  further stated,  "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.  We have the support of grocers, retailers, restaurants, labor unions, and environmental organizations in Seattle.  We also have broad grassroots involvement from residents who have been emailing and calling in support of this issue for months now."

Seattle is the fourth city in Washington to ban plastic bags following Edmonds, Bellingham, and, most recently, Mukilteo. Seattle's ordinance is based on the Bellingham ordinance. Regionally, Seattle joins the Hawaiian islands of Maui and Kauai, more than a dozen municipalities in California—such as San Francisco, San Jose, Malibu, and Los Angeles County—more than 30 coastal towns in Alaska, and neighboring Portland in taking action against plastic bags.

Ordinance Amends Seattle Municipal Code

Section 1. Effective July 1, 2012, Seattle Municipal Code Chapter 21.36 is amended by adding new Section 21.36.100 to read as follows:

SMC 21.36.100 Single-use plastic and recyclable paper carryout bags

A. No retail establishment in the City shall provide a single-use plastic carryout bag to any customer.

B. Through December 31, 2016, no retail establishment in the City shall provide a paper carryout bag with a manufacturer's stated capacity of one-eighth barrel (882 cubic inches) or larger that is not a recyclable paper bag, and retail establishments shall collect a pass-through charge of not less than five-cents for each recyclable paper carryout bag provided to customers.

Broad Support from Business & Organizations

Environmental organizations in support of the plastic bag ban include Environment Washington, People for Puget Sound, Surfrider Foundation, Sierra Club, and Zero Waste Seattle. The bill is also 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.

Read Councilmember Mike O'Brien's explanation of the plastic bag ban.

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