Plastic bag fee set for Seattle

Seattle City Council passed an ordinance that will charge shoppers a fee on disposable plastic and paper shopping bags. A separate ordinance was also passed that bans expanded polystyrene food containers. This new ordinance makes 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.

One part of the package creates a fee of $0.20 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 percent 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 percent, or at least 184 million bags annually.

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 $0.05 of every bag to cover administrative costs. Small businesses, those grossing less than $1 million annually, will be allowed to keep the entire $0.20 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.

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.