Seattle has become the third-largest city in the United States to ban single-use plastic carryout bags.
The nine-member city council passed the ban unanimously Dec. 19. It is scheduled to go into effect July 1.
It is the second time the city has attempted to regulate the use of plastic carryout bags. The 20-cent fee Seattle council placed on plastic bags in 2008 was overturned before it went into effect by an August 2009 voter referendum.
“We are disappointed, but not surprised by the result of today's vote by the Seattle City Council to rush toward a plastic bag ban and impose a paper bag tax,” said Mark Daniels, vice president of sustainability and environmental policy for the nation's largest plastic bag manufacturer, Hilex Poly Co. LLC, which is based in Hartsville, S.C.
“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 Daniels, who is also chairman of the Progressive Bag Affiliates unit of the American Chemistry Council.
That PBA unit will become part of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. on Jan. 1 and will be renamed the American Progressive Bag Alliance.
“A statewide solution that includes recycling is more comprehensive [because it would encompass] not just a single product but all plastic bags, wraps and films,” Daniels said. “Increased plastics recycling provides a more effective solution for consumers and the environment. It also supports an American industry that provides tens of thousands of jobs.”
Hilex Poly operates a plastic recycling plant in North Vernon, Ind., that the company said will recycle 25 million pounds of plastic bags and plastic film in 2011.
Seattle is the 23rd-largest city in the U.S., with an estimated population of 610,000. The largest city that has passed a plastic bag ban is San Jose, which is the 10th-largest city in the U.S., with an estimated population of 950,000. That ban goes into effect Jan. 1.
San Francisco, the nation's 13th-largest city, with a population of 805,000, is the second-largest city with a plastic bag ban. That ban has been in effect since 2007. Altogether 35 communities in the U.S. have plastic bag bans and three more have placed fees on plastic bags handed out at carryout.
Three other cities in the state of Washington have a ban on plastic bags: Edmonds, Bellingham and Mukilteo.
At least four other cities in the state of Washington and more than two-dozen communities nationwide — including Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, and Eugene, Ore. — are considering measures to ban plastic bags.
The Seattle ordinance applies to all retailers and also requires them to charge at least 5 cents for paper bags handed out at retail. There is an exemption from the ban for bags passed out at farmers markets, food banks and for takeout or take-home food from restaurants. Plastic bags used for produce, bulk foods, bulk candies, meat or fish, greeting cards and prescription drugs are exempt from the ban, along with dry-cleaning bags, newspaper bags and door-hanger bags.
The Seattle plastic bag ban also applies to biodegradable and compostable single-use plastic bags.
The Seattle Public Utilities has estimated that only 13 percent of the nearly 300 million plastic carryout bags used annually in the city are recycled, but that more than 80 percent of paper bags are recycled.
The measure was supported by five environmental groups, the Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Restaurant Association.