Environment
12:11 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Seattle ban on plastic shopping bags kicks in soon

They may be sorely missed by many dog owners in Seattle, who use them for cleaning up after fido. But they pollute our waterways, get stuck in the gears at recycling plants, harm marine wildlife and never break down completely. 

We're talking about thin plastic shopping bags, which are becoming a thing of the past at cash registers in Seattle, effective July first.

“All retail stores, no matter what kind of store, all retail stores are affected," says Dick Lilly, a program manager with Seattle Public Utilities. "The lightweight plastic bag is completely banned. ”

Seattle's ban is the latest to kick in in the Puget Sound region, as cities from Bellingham to Issaquah follow the lead of city councils in about a dozen cities in California. Last month, Los Angeles signed on. Portland implemented a bag ban last October.

In Seattle, only paper bags will be available at the register, and stores are required to charge five cents for the large ones.

“The point is to encourage people to remember their re-usable bags. And that nickel is a little reminder that  'hey, if I’d walked in with my re-usable bag, I would not only be saving that nickel, they might even credit me  3 cents or 5 cents for my re-usable bag,' ” Lilly says.

Many stores that already reward customers for bringing in their own bags will continue to do so. Seattle’s Ballard Market is among them, where Tony D’onofrio is the Sustainability Director.

“Currently, 30% of our customers bring in re-usable bags. And we’re hoping that jumps up to 60 or 65%,” D’onofrio says.  He says that’s how many people are remembering the bags now in Washington, DC, where a similar bag ban recently took effect.

With the new law, Seattle expects to prevent the use of about 290 million plastic bags per year – which would fill 6 or 8 rail cars headed for a landfill.

Similar ordinances are being implemented soon in Bellingham (August 1,) Bainbridge Island (Nov. 1)  Mukilteo (January 2013) and Issaquah (March 2013.) In Edmonds, the first city in the region to sign on, a ban on thin plastic bags went into effect in 2010.

What's a dog owner to do? Or cat owners for that matter? 

Some are relieved to know that grocery stores will still be allowed to provide thin plastic bags for bulk items and produce, "which is very helpful when you have two cats who use a litter box," says Seattle resident Steve Lowe, who adds that he very much supports the bag ban, because "there's too much waste as it is." 

So are the grocery stores worried about a run on produce bags?

"There might be" says the Ballard Market's Tony D’onofrio, noting that people use them not just for pet waste, but also for lining small trash cans in their kitchens and bathrooms. He has a friend who's been hoarding them in anticipation of the ban.

"But I don't think it's going to be the issue that people think it will," D'onofrio says, because he thinks enough will be in circulation with normal purchases of produce, meat and bulk items. Thin plastic will also still be allowed for take-out food and newspaper subscriptions. And thick plastic bags will be allowed, as a waterproof option for retailers who sell items such as books or clothing that may need protection. So, D'onofrio says "you do collect a lot of those other bags. "

You can read all the details of Seattle's ban on single-use plastic here.