The Seattle City Council voted unanimously Monday for a broad band on plastic shopping bags for businesses ranging from farmers markets to department stores. The bill would require stores to charge a 5-cent fee to shoppers if they want paper bags to hold their purchases.
The bill now goes to Mayor Mike McGinn for his signature, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal. If approved, the ordinance will go into effect July 1.
The bill exempts dry-cleaning, produce and bulk-bin bags as well as bags used to keep takeaway hot food or liquids contained. Customers on government assistance will be exempt from the bag fee, and reduced-cost or free reusable bags will be available from the city for low-income people.
The bill was driven by environmental considerations, with proponents saying the bags pollute the landscape and oceans, and harm wildlife.
“We know that recycling alone cannot protect Puget Sound and our ocean waters from these plastic bags,” said the bill’s primary sponsor, council member Mike O’Brien. “Of course people are not intentionally littering their bags into Puget Sound but, with so many in circulation, bags are ending up there, causing real damage to habitats and wildlife. Bringing our own reusable bags when we go shopping is a simple step we can all take that will protect our environment and reduce unnecessary waste.”
The Journal reports that Seattle residents use approximately 292 million plastic bags a year, only 13 percent of which are recycled, according to Seattle Public Utilities.
Three other cities in Washington already ban plastic bags: Edmonds, Bellingham and Mukilteo.
If or when the bill is signed into law, Seattle Public Utilities’ solid waste division will monitor and enforce the ordinance.