At long last, the Seattle City Council has unanimously green-lighted a wide-reaching ban on disposable plastic shopping bags — not just at supermarkets but at farmers markets, department and convenience stores, home improvement centers, and even food trucks.


Produce, bulk, and dry cleaning bags along with plastic bags used for take-out orders at restaurants will still be provided to customers free of charge under the new ruling which will also require retailers to charge customers a minimum of 5 cents if they require a paper shopping bag. The paper bag fee, which will be waived for low-income residents, will go directly back to the retailer to help cover the costs of stocking the bags. Once signed by Mayor Mike McGinn, the new law is expected to go into effect in June 2012.


As mentioned, the ban has been a looong time coming for Seattle. In 2008, the city became the first in the nation to approve a fee (20 cents) on both plastic and paper shopping bags. That game-changing measure was met by a $1.4 million campaign-of-protest by the American Chemistry Council and was repealed by voters in 2009. In the years since the failed measure, Seattle residents have blown through 292 million plastic bags annually (only about 13 percent are recycled) while other cities both local (Bellingham, Edmonds and Portland, Ore.) and further afield (Washington, D.C.; San Francisco) have enacted similar bag fees and outright bans. The Seattle ban is directly modeled after the ban in Bellingham.


Council member Mike O’Brian tells the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that “the hope is by passing this legislation, we can help shift behavior and get more people to use reusable bags instead of disposable bags.” He adds: "I think we've gotten to a place where it's really going to work for the environment, businesses and the community in general.”


Naturally, not everyone is pleased that Seattle is back in the plastic shopping bag exiling game. Mark Daniels, vice president of sustainability and environmental policy at plastic bag manufacturer and recycler Hilex Poly, laments to The New York Times: “Moving consumers away from plastic bags only pushes people to less environmentally friendly options such as paper bags, which require more energy to produce and transport, and reusable bags, which are not recyclable.” 


I hear you loud and clear, Mr. Daniels, but I have to wonder: were there any reusable or paper shopping bags found in the trash-filled stomach of a grey whale that beached itself in Seattle in 2010? Negatory. Also, some folks who use free plastic shopping bags scored at retailers for household purposes such as lining garbage cans and backyard poop scooping have complained about the new measures as well. The ban is fully supported by the Northwest Grocery Association.


Any Seattle residents care to chime in about the news? Here's hoping that the ban is infectious and heads down south to my hometown of Tacoma in the very near future.


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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Seattle (finally) bans plastic shopping bags
After a groundbreaking measure to discourage consumers from using disposable plastic shopping bags was squashed by voters in 2009, Seattle is back in the bag-ba