Here’s the official news release from the council – the fee kicks in next January (added late afternoon, the mayor’s news release, after the council’s version):
The Council today broke new ground by making Seattle the
first city in the nation to encourage its residents to curtail the use
of disposable bags and instead utilize reusable options by imposing a
fee on disposable shopping bags. A separate ordinance also bans expanded
polystyrene food containers. Council President Conlin said, â€œThese new
laws are an integral part of the Cityâ€™s Zero Waste strategy– and
translating Seattleâ€™s environmental values into concrete actions.
They will help marine life, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and move our
City toward a sustainable future.â€
One part of the package creates a fee of 20 cents for disposable
shopping bags provided at convenience, drug, and grocery store cash
registers, beginning on January 1, 2009. Seattle Public Utilities
estimates 360 million disposable bags are used in the city every year.
The proposal focuses on these stores because they are the source of more
than 70% of all disposable shopping bags distributed. The fee applies to
both paper and plastic and is expected to reduce the use of disposable
bags by more than 50%, or at least 184 million bags annually.
Councilmember Tim Burgess said, â€œThese laws are a great example of
how government can help the market to implement necessary environmental
change. I support this particular solution because it maintains the
ability of consumers to choose whether to use their own reusable bags,
or pay a fee for disposable bags provided by the store. This is a
market-driven strategy to protect the environment.â€
The clear plastic bags used for individual items such as fruits,
vegetables, and bulk items will not be subject to the fee.
In response to citizen concerns, the Council amended the legislation to
direct Seattle Public Utilities to help seniors and low-income
households by distributing free reusable bags and working with food
banks, people using food stamps, and shoppers receiving other forms of
direct assistance. The bag fee legislation helps businesses defray the
cost of administering the program by allowing larger retailers to keep
5-cents of every bag to cover administrative costs. Small businesses,
those grossing less than $1 million annually, will be allowed to keep
the entire 20-cent fee.
Some of the funds generated will be used to offset a portion of the
needed solid waste rate increase associated with new garbage contracts.
Part of the funds collected will also go to support Seattle Public
Utilitiesâ€™ waste prevention and recycling programs.
By preventing the manufacture of this number of bags each year, Seattle
will cut greenhouse gas production by nearly 112,000 tons over a 30-year
period. This reduction in the use of plastic bags will also help marine
ecosystems by eliminating some of the plastic that ends up in our oceans
and the Puget Sound. A similar fee in Ireland achieved a 90 percent
reduction in use from 325 to 23 bags per person per year.
Another part of the new proposal will ban expanded polystyrene food
containers from restaurants and packaging from grocery stores, beginning
January 1, 2009. In July of 2010, foam trays for raw meat and seafood
will also be banned and replaced with compostable alternatives. Expanded
polystyrene foam not only adds to the waste stream, but also presents a
hazard for birds because it breaks up into indigestible pellets. There
are better products that are readily available and serve the same
This latest initiative grew out of Council President Conlinâ€™s work as
chair of the Councilâ€™s Environment, Emergency Management, and
Utilities Committee in developing a comprehensive strategy to reduce the
Cityâ€™s solid waste. As a result, the Council passed the Zero Waste
strategy in July 2007 to improve recycling and waste reduction. The
organizations Foam Free Seattle, Bring Your Own Bag, and People for
Puget Sound urged inclusion of the bag fee and the polystyrene container
ban in the Zero Waste strategy, and played key roles in mobilizing
public support for these ordinances.
Added late afternoon: Here’s the mayor’s version of the same news release:
Mayor Nickels Applauds Councils Passage of Green Fee on Shopping Bags, Ban on Foam
Nickels: The answer to the question paper or plastic is neither.
SEATTLE Mayor Greg Nickels applauded the City Council today for passing a 20-cent
green fee on all disposable shopping bags at the citys grocery, drug and convenience
stores, effective Jan. 1, 2009. The plan also calls for a ban on foam food
The answer to the question paper or plastic has officially become neither, said
Nickels. The best way to reduce waste is not to create it, and today, we have made
that a little easier in Seattle.
Seattle Public Utilities estimates 360 million disposable bags are used in the city
every year, most made of plastic. The green fee is intended to encourage and
promote the use of reusable shopping bags. The city will distribute these bags and
promote their advantages to every household in Seattle, with additional bags going
to low-income families. Retailers will keep 5-cents of every disposable bag sold to
cover administrative costs. Retailers grossing less than $1 million annually will
keep the entire 20-cent fee.
Charging a fee for disposable bags will cut the number of throw-away bags coming out
of grocery, drug and convenience stores by an estimated 70 percent or more,
according to the citys analysis, and will reduce the use of disposable shopping bags
in Seattle overall by more than 50 percent. By preventing the manufacture of 184
million bags a year, Seattle will cut greenhouse gas production by 4,000 tons per
year, equivalent to taking 665 cars off the road. A similar fee in Irelandachieved
a 90 percent reduction in use from 325 to 23 bags per person per year.
The proposed ban on foam containers used by the food service industry would include
such items as plates, trays, clamshells and hot and cold beverage cups used at
restaurants, delicatessens, fast food outlets and coffee shops, and egg cartons used
at grocery stores. The legislation would also require that by July 1, 2010, all food
service businesses currently using disposable plastic or plastic-coated paper
products convert to packaging that is compostable or locally recyclable, including
meat trays used at grocery stores.
To smooth the transition, the city will set up business advisory committees
representing the retail and restaurant sectors. In addition, the city will help food
service businesses work together for lower prices on new compostable products.