The Seattle City Council passed a broad ban on plastic bags Monday, outlawing them not just in grocery stores, but in department stores, clothing stores, convenience stores, home-improvement stores, food trucks and farmers markets.
The bill goes further than bans in other cities, which have largely banished plastic only in groceries and sometimes drug stores. Customers in Seattle will still be able to get paper bags from retailers, but for a 5-cent fee.
Passed unanimously by the Council, the bill now goes to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn for approval. If approved, it will take effect in July.
"The hope is by passing this legislation; we can help shift behavior and get more people to use reusable bags instead of disposable bags," said Councilmember Mike O'Brien, the bill's main sponsor.
The bill is Seattle's second attempt to regulate plastic bags, considered an environmental scourge that fouls oceans and chokes birds and other marine animals.
In 2008, the Council passed a 20-cent fee on the bags , prompting the plastics industry to spend $1.4 million to crush the measure. Voters repealed the fee in 2009.
Since then, Seattle has been churning through an estimated 292 million plastic bags a year, while neighboring cities - Portland, Bellingham, Edmonds - managed to pass legislation that exiled them. Seattle's ban is modeled after Bellingham's law.
O'Brien that while Seattleites are good about recycling, only 13 percent of plastic bags used in the city are recycled.
"I think we've gotten to a place where it's really going to work for the environment, businesses and the community in general," he said.
The nickel fee goes to retailers to reimburse them for stocking paper bags. That's a contrast to Seattle's failed bag fee, which went back to the city. Many people viewed that as a steep tax for government.
Monday's bill exempts customers on food assistance and other government benefits from the bag fee. The city will also make free or reduced-cost reusable bags available to poor people.
The ordinance applies only to single-use, checkout bags, and not to produce, bulk-ban and dry-cleaning bags. Plastic bags for take-out restaurant food are also still allowed, because they help protect health and safety while transporting hot food and liquid.
Many people complained that the bill takes free bags away from consumers, who use them for other things, such as lining garbage cans and scooping poo.
But Council President Richard Conlin said the bags aren't really free. "The cost of these bags are incorporated in everybody's grocery bills," he said.
The paper-bag fee will be in place until December 2016, when the Council may decide to extend it. That will depend on what impact the bill has on the environment and retailers.
A representative of Hilex Poly, the country's biggest maker of plastic bags, called the paper-bag fee a "tax" and said the council had rushed to pass the ban.
"By voting to implement a ban on plastic bags, the City of Seattle misses the opportunity to lead the way toward the meaningful reduction of litter through increased statewide recycling efforts, said Mark Daniels, a vice-president for the plastics giant, said in a statement.
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