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Plastic Bag Ban

Plastic Bag Ban - At a Glance

Seattle plastic bag ban effective July 1, 2012

Retail business survey results and progress report – January 15, 2013

Here’s what the law does:

  • Prohibits all Seattle retail stores from providing customers with single-use plastic carryout (shopping) bags, including those advertised as compostable, biodegradable, photodegradable or similar.
  • Allows retail stores to provide customers with any size recyclable paper or reusable carryout bags
  • Requires retail stores to charge a minimum of 5 cents for paper carryout bags of 1/8 barrel (882 cubic inches) or larger. These are typical grocery bags with a flat bottom greater than 60 square inches.
  • Requires retail stores to show all bag-charges on customer receipts; stores keep all revenue. The charge is a taxable retail sale.
  • Allows retail stores, at their discretion, to charge for smaller bags or provide them free.
  • Allows retail stores to provide carryout bags made of plastic 2.25 mil or thicker, with or without charge at their discretion.
  • Requires that bags to which the 5-cent charge applies contain at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled fiber and display the minimum recycled content on the outside of the bag. Use of recycled fiber and labeling is encouraged for all sizes of paper bags.
  • Imposes a $250 fine for violations.
  • Promotes reusable carryout bags as the best alternative to single-use plastic bags.

Exemptions from the law

  • Customers using vouchers or electronic benefit cards from state or federal food assistance programs for grocery purchases are exempt from the 5-cent paper bag charge.
  • Plastic bags used in stores for bulk items or to protect vegetables, meat, fish and poultry, frozen foods, flowers, deli foods and similar where moisture would be a problem are exempt.
  • Plastic bags for take-out orders from restaurants are allowed, though use of recyclable paper bags is encouraged.
  • Dry-cleaner, newspaper, and door-hanger bags and plastic bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for use as garbage bags or to contain pet waste, or approved compostable food and yard waste bags are exempt.
  • Note:  Merchants with existing supplies of plastic carryout bags (purchased before Ordinance 123775 became law January 19, 2012) may use them until their supplies run out.

Alternatives to plastic bags

  • The law calls on Seattle Public Utilities to promote reusable bags as the best alternative to single-use plastic carryout bags. SPU plans to work with retail stores to get this message out to shoppers.
  • There are a variety of cloth carryout bags on the market and many retail stores sell inexpensive bags made of polypropylene that can be used over and over.
  • There is no entirely objective measure for when a carryout bag may be deemed reusable; however, it would be hard to say that a bag that fails within 10 uses is truly reusable within the intent of Seattle’s ordinance, and 20 repeat uses would seem a reasonable minimum.

Tips for shoppers

  • Let the nickel you pay for a paper shopping bag be a reminder to shop with reusable bags.
  • Keep several reusable bags in the car for trips to the grocery store.
  • A small bag, the kind that goes into a little stuff bag, can be carried in your backpack, shoulder bag or purse.
  • Reuse or recycle paper bags when you get them or donate clean ones to your neighborhood food bank. Using paper bags to store and carry food scraps to your food and yard waste cart is an easy way to manage your food waste.
  • When you get plastic bags from a store (Thicker ones are still ok; clothing stores and others may decide to use them), save them and put newspaper and dry cleaning bags and plastic film packaging in them for recycling. Bundled into one bag that’s tied closed, other kinds of plastic bags can still go in Seattle residential recycling bins.

By the way, after July 1, a call to SPU's customer service line, (206) 684-3000, will forward store names to outreach staff who will visit the location. Note that small stores – those without branches outside Seattle where they can send their existing stock of bags – are allowed some time to use up inventory. Also, strong plastic bags (2.25 mils thick or greater) are considered reusable and some stores such as department stores and book stores will be using them. You may also call this number if you see a store not charging for large, recyclable paper bags. (No charge is required for small paper bags.)