Seattle joins regional and global movement to ban single-use plastic bags

Home » Seattle joins regional and global movement to ban single-use plastic bags

Council President Richard Conlin
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw
Councilmember Tim Burgess
Councilmember Sally J. Clark
Councilmember Jean Godden
Councilmember Bruce Harrell
Councilmember Nick Licata
Councilmember Mike O’Brien
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Seattle joins regional and global movement to ban single-use plastic bags
Plastic bags proven to be major threat to health of Puget Sound and ocean marine life

Seattle – Today Seattle City Council introduced Council Bill 117345, intended to help clean up Puget Sound and protect marine wildlife by banning single-use plastic bags. This legislation gives Seattle an opportunity to join Bellingham and Edmonds in Washington, as well as cities up and down the West Coast and more than 20 nations worldwide in efforts to curb the impact of single-use plastic bags on the environment.

Washingtonians use more than 2 billion single-use plastic bags each year. Seattle alone uses approximately 292 million plastic bags annually. A recent report by Environment Washington provides compelling evidence of the damage these bags cause to marine life.

"We all remember the beached grey whale found dead in West Seattle last year with 20 plastic bags in its stomach. The problem plastics pose for the Sound and ocean is pervasive and alarming," said prime sponsor, Councilmember Mike O’Brien. "These bags provide minutes of use for us as consumers, but because they are not biodegradable are with us in the environment for hundreds of years."

"We have learned so much more in the past few years about the harmful impacts of these plastic bags on our waters," said Tom Bancroft, Executive Director of People for Puget Sound. "Studies show birds, sea turtles and other wildlife often mistake the plastic for food. Not only are tiny bits of plastic accumulating in the Sound and ocean, these plastics may be a pathway for toxic chemicals to get into wildlife. We owe it to future generations to curb our use of these bags now, before we do irreparable harm to Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean."

In addition to a ban on plastic bags, the ordinance will promote reusable bags instead of simply switching to disposable paper bags. The law would require that retailers charge a five-cent pass through cost on each paper bag to consumers who do not bring reusable bags. The nickel serves as a reminder to consumers to bring reusable bags. Retailers would keep the nickel as a means for recovering costs of switching to paper bags.

"I said last year that Seattle needed bold, decisive action and that we needed an outright ban on plastic bags. It’s time for Seattle to demonstrate our environmental leadership and join the growing movement against these bags," said Councilmember Tim Burgess.

"Using the Bellingham model is a smart approach that addresses concerns raised by Seattle voters when they voted down the 2008 ordinance. It addresses concerns about taxes by allowing grocers and retailers to keep the fee on paper bags to cover costs, and addresses concerns about impacts on low-income people by exempting those on assistance programs," said Councilmember Nick Licata.

"This initiative is a logical next step in Seattle’s commitment to Zero Waste, a successful effort I spearheaded to increase our recycling rate and cap our total tonnage of garbage at 2006 levels," said Council President Richard Conlin.  "Promoting reusable materials is crucial to our Zero Waste goal.  I’m confident that this approach to decreasing the use of disposable bags will be workable for consumers and retailers alike."

The bill introduced by Councilmember O’Brien is co-sponsored by Council President Conlin and Councilmembers Bagshaw, Burgess, Clark, Godden, and Licata. Seattle’s bag ban would go live six months from passage of the ordinance. The ordinance is nearly identical to the Bellingham law that was passed in July 2011 and will go into effect in July 2012. For grocers and other retailers, consistency in the legislation across the region is seen as crucial for adapting their business models.

Seattle Public Utilities would be responsible for outreach and education with Seattle businesses to aide in the transition to the new law. The utilities’ solid waste division would also manage monitoring and enforcement once the ban goes into effect.

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