Bag Requirements

COVID-19 Message

Compliance during the COVID-19 crisis

The COVID-19 crisis is impacting grocery and other retailer operations and may temporarily affect compliance with Seattle's bag requirements. In an effort to keep community and essential workers safe during the crisis, we will be temporarily suspending enforcement of these requirements. Seattle Public Utilities is providing the following guidance to assist our business community during these challenging times:
  1. For the duration of the COVID-19 civil emergency declaration by Mayor Durkan issued March 3, 2020, the City will suspend enforcement of the requirement that retail establishments collect a 5-cent, pass-through charge on recyclable paper bags provided to customers.
  2. If available, compliant bags and packaging should be used.
  3. If non-compliant bags or packaging are substituted on a temporary basis because of a lack of supply, we encourage posting simple signage informing the customer that the change is temporary.
  4. Care should be taken to not overstock non-complaint bags or packaging that are only needed on a temporary basis.
  5. Retailers may use their own discretion regarding the use of reusable bags by customers.
  6. Retailers should return to using compliant bags and packaging as soon as possible.
  7. Grocers should not use green-tinted, non-compostable plastic bags, as required by the ordinance. It is very important that we not pollute our compost system due to customer confusion about compostable and non-compostable bags.
  8. As stated above, during the COVID-19 crisis, our policies remain in place. However, there will be no enforcement action taken on businesses that are unable to remain in compliance.

Seattle retail stores are not allowed to provide customers with single-use plastic carryout (shopping) bags, including bags labeled "biodegradable," "degradable," "decomposable," or similar. The ban promotes reusable carryout bags as the best alternative to single-use plastic bags. The following information applies to both retail stores and packaging suppliers.

Ban ban flyer in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format

Bag ban flyer

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Details about the requirements

  • The bag ban was effective July 1, 2017
  • It allows retail stores to provide customers with any size recyclable paper or reusable carryout bags.
  • Retail stores are required to charge a minimum of 5 cents for large 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.
  • All Seattle retail stores are prohibited from providing customers with plastic bags (such as produce bags) that are tinted green or brown.
  • The ban allows stores to provide approved compostable bags, but they must be colored green or brown.
  • It requires retail stores to show all bag-charges on customer receipts; stores keep all revenue. The charge is a taxable retail sale.
  • Retail stores are allowed, at their discretion, to charge for smaller bags or provide them free.
  • Retail stores can provide carryout bags made of plastic 2.25 mil or thicker, with or without charge at their discretion.
  • The ban 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.
  • This law imposes a $250 fine for violations.

 

Exemptions

  • Customers using vouchers or electronic benefit cards from state or federal food assistance programs for grocery purchases are exempt from the 5-cent large paper bag fee.
  • Plastic bags used in stores for bulk items or to protect vegetables, meat, frozen foods, flowers and similar items are exempt. Plastic bags cannot be green or brown tinted. Approved compostable bags are permitted for these purposes.
  • Plastic or approved compostable bags used for take-out orders of prepared food from restaurants are allowed.
  • Plastic dry-cleaner, newspaper and door-hanger bags are allowed but cannot be tinted green or brown.
  • 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.

 

Additional information

A call to Seattle Green Business Program, (206) 343-8505, will forward store names to outreach staff who will visit the location. Strong plastic bags (2.25 mils thick or greater) are considered reusable and some stores such as department stores and book stores use them. You may also call if you see a store not charging for large, recyclable paper bags. No charge is required for small paper bags.