Paper or Plastic? Seattle City Council seeks to curtail plastic waste through legislative process and use fee

By Megan Resler

On July 28, Seattle City Council passed a new bill which contains two main components: consumers will no longer get grocery bags for free, and businesses will no longer be permitted to use or sell foam containers. Drafted and presented by Council President Richard Conlin, this bill mimics a similar law passed in Ireland that cut the annual use of plastic bags by 90 percent.
According to the new regulation all King County grocery, drug, and convenience stores will start requiring a fee of $.20 per paper or plastic bag used for customers groceries. The city will provide one or more free reusable tote bags to each household in the hopes that no low-income family will be badly impacted by the new regulation. David Knapp, Assistant Manager at the Mountlake Terrace Roger’s Market, claims, “As long as people invest in a reusable bag they’ll be fine.”
Seattle Public Utilities estimates that 360 million plastic bags are used per year in Seattle and that once in effect the bill will cut that number in half. Annually this fee is expected to raise $3.5 million. Five cents from each bag sold will be paid to the store directly as an administration fee, and the rest will work to offset expected increases in Seattle’s city waste.
Since 70 percent of Seattle’s plastic bags come from grocery, drug, and convenience stores, the $.20 bag fee will not be extended towards any retail locations. David Knapp said, “[The bag fee] is not based on business, it’s based on material. And if the material is bags, [the fee] should be enforced everywhere.”
When asked, local chain grocery stores Albertsons, Safeway and QFC, would give no information about this statute.
Seattle City Council also passed a ban on Styrofoam and other Polystyrene containers by a vote of 7-0.
This embargo encourages grocery stores and restaurants to switch to plastic containers by Jan. 1 2009, but starting July 2010 plastic containers will also be outlawed and only biodegradable alternatives will be accepted.
These changes are postponed in order to give businesses the time to get their alternative containers in order. It’s expected to cost restaurants $.10 more per container, and $.05 more per cup.