Seattle Bans Plastic Bags at the Checkout Counter

Seattle Bans Plastic Bags

Photo: Flickr mtsofan

In a bid to reduce waste and keep plastics out of the nation’s waterways and oceans, Seattle joins a growing number of cities pushing to eliminate plastic grocery bags for good.

On July 1st, the ban on plastic bags adopted by Seattle’s City Council in December of last year officially kicks into gear. Seattle—which passed the legislation at the urging of environmental groups working to protect marine life in Puget Sound—joins a growing number of progressive cities that prohibit retail stores from offering single-use plastic bags at the checkout counter.

Related: BYOBag: 6 Smart Reusable Shopping Bags

According to Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle recycles just 13% of the whopping 292 million plastic bags it uses each year. By encouraging citizens to switch to reusable canvas, string, or fabric bags, the city hopes to reduce waste at the source and curb plastic debris that ends up in local waterways.

Plastic bags first appeared in America’s supermarkets in 1977. Today, according to the National Resource Defense Council, the average American family brings close to 1,500 of the flimsy grocery bags home each year. And nationwide roughly 100 billion of the bags end up in landfills annually.

While plastic bags are now banned in Seattle, stores can continue to offer recyclable paper grocery sacks (with a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled fiber) as long as they charge a minimum of a nickel per bag—a fee that officials hope will encourage consumers to carry reusable bags, not just switch from plastic to paper. Currently, clear plastic bags used to protect produce, flowers, and deli meats—as well as dry cleaner and newspaper bags and household garbage bags sold in boxes—will be exempt from the ban.

Three other cities in Washington State, including Bellingham and Edmonton, have already banned plastic bags, as have Seattle’s West Coast neighbors San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. Los Angeles, America’s second-largest city, joined the ranks on May 23, 2012, when the City Council voted 13 to 1 to phase out single-use plastic bags citywide by spring 2013. Other plastic bag bans currently in place include Westport, Connecticut; Brownsville, Texas; the Hawaiian islands of Maui and Kauai; and North Carolina’s Outer Banks, among others.

Related: 20 Ways to Go Green Today

“From our conversations with local retailers, and from what we have seen in other Washington cities that have adopted bans on throw-away plastic bags, we are expecting a smooth transition when the new law takes effect, said Seattle Public Utilities program manager Dick Lilly.

“Most major stores, particularly grocery and drug stores where about 70% of plastic bags originate, are already selling moderately-priced reusable bags to help their customers,” Lilly said. “And some stores are planning to give customers free bags during the first couple days of the plastic bag ban.”

Want to kick your plastic-bag habit? Click here to see a slideshow of some of our editors’ favorite reusable shopping bags, from classic string totes to sturdy canvas carry-alls designed to last for years.

For more on ‘green’ living and sustainability, consider:

Learning to Love Recycling
20 Ways to Go Green Today
7 DIY Recycling Centers for Small Spaces