Council President Richard Conlin
SEATTLE PASSES LANDMARK MEASURE TO ELIMINATE WASTE
Bag Fee and Foam Ban Respond to Local Activists
SEATTLE – The Council today broke new ground by making Seattle the first city in the nation to encourage its residents to curtail the use of disposable bags and instead utilize reusable options by imposing a fee on disposable shopping bags. A separate ordinance also bans expanded polystyrene food containers. Council President Conlin said, “These new laws are an integral part of the City’s Zero Waste strategy-- and translating Seattle’s environmental values into concrete actions. They will help marine life, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and move our City toward a sustainable future.”
One part of the package creates a fee of 20 cents for disposable shopping bags provided at convenience, drug, and grocery store cash registers, beginning on January 1, 2009. Seattle Public Utilities estimates 360 million disposable bags are used in the city every year. The proposal focuses on these stores because they are the source of more than 70% of all disposable shopping bags distributed. The fee applies to both paper and plastic and is expected to reduce the use of disposable bags by more than 50%, or at least 184 million bags annually.
Councilmember Tim Burgess said, “These laws are a great example of how government can help the market to implement necessary environmental change. I support this particular solution because it maintains the ability of consumers to choose whether to use their own reusable bags, or pay a fee for disposable bags provided by the store. This is a market-driven strategy to protect the environment.”
The clear plastic bags used for individual items such as fruits, vegetables, and bulk items will not be subject to the fee.
In response to citizen concerns, the Council amended the legislation to direct Seattle Public Utilities to help seniors and low-income households by distributing free reusable bags and working with food banks, people using food stamps, and shoppers receiving other forms of direct assistance. The bag fee legislation helps businesses defray the cost of administering the program by allowing larger retailers to keep 5-cents of every bag to cover administrative costs. Small businesses, those grossing less than $1 million annually, will be allowed to keep the entire 20-cent fee.
Some of the funds generated will be used to offset a portion of the needed solid waste rate increase associated with new garbage contracts. Part of the funds collected will also go to support Seattle Public Utilities’ waste prevention and recycling programs.
By preventing the manufacture of this number of bags each year, Seattle will cut greenhouse gas production by nearly 112,000 tons over a 30-year period. This reduction in the use of plastic bags will also help marine ecosystems by eliminating some of the plastic that ends up in our oceans and the Puget Sound. A similar fee in Ireland achieved a 90 percent reduction in use from 325 to 23 bags per person per year.
Another part of the new proposal will ban expanded polystyrene food containers from restaurants and packaging from grocery stores, beginning January 1, 2009. In July of 2010, foam trays for raw meat and seafood will also be banned and replaced with compostable alternatives. Expanded polystyrene foam not only adds to the waste stream, but also presents a hazard for birds because it breaks up into indigestible pellets. There are better products that are readily available and serve the same purpose.
This latest initiative grew out of Council President Conlin’s work as chair of the Council’s Environment, Emergency Management, and Utilities Committee in developing a comprehensive strategy to reduce the City’s solid waste. As a result, the Council passed the Zero Waste strategy in July 2007 to improve recycling and waste reduction. The organizations Foam Free Seattle, Bring Your Own Bag, and People for Puget Sound urged inclusion of the bag fee and the polystyrene container ban in the Zero Waste strategy, and played key roles in mobilizing public support for these ordinances.