Come July 1, Seattle will never have to answer the question “paper or plastic?” ever again.
Starting Sunday, the plastic bag ban passed in December of last year will go into full effect. A quick summary — the ban will prohibit retailers in Seattle from providing customers with plastic bags, even if they are marked as compostable, biodegradable or otherwise. Instead, you will now have two bagging options:
1) Stores can provide you with paper grocery bags, but are required to charge the customer at least 5 cents per bag (UPDATE: However, smaller paper bags will still be free, charging for those will be optional and up to the retailer).
2) The second suggested option is that you buy a handy-dandy re-usable bag, therefore freeing yourself of a pesky 5 cent charge (see what they did there?).
Little plastic bags for produce, meat, bulk foods, newspapers, dry cleaning, and take-out food will still be permitted, so no worries for lovers of QFC trail mix or Rancho Bravo. Also exempt from the 5 cent charge will be “customers using vouchers or electronic benefit cards from state or federal food assistance programs for grocery purchases.”
Several of the grocery stores on Capitol Hill have already made the switch to paper.
“We decided two years ago to get rid of our plastic bags and stop ordering them,” said Wesley Barga of Central Co-op. “The company in China we were getting them from sent us an entire years worth after we stopped ordering them though, so we finally got rid of the last of them by donating them all about a month ago.”
Central Co-op imposed a policy of charging 10 cents a bag, and the move has been extremely effective in getting people to switch.
“It’s rare we go through more than four or five
paper plastic bags a day,” Barga said, “most people just bring their own re-usable bags now.”
Central Co-op is polling its members in its latest newsletter about shifting the fee down to the 5 cent minimum mandated by the new city law. All the money Central Co-op currently makes on bag charges goes to sustainability efforts. “No matter what people decide on the price of the surcharge, that will continue,” Barga said.
The Capitol Hill Trader Joe’s have never had plastic bags and most shoppers at the 17th Ave location already utilize re-usable bags.
While Central Co-op, Trader Joe’s and Bartell Drugs are selling re-usable bags for a modest fee of $1.99, those on the Hill looking to be extra thrifty can prepare for the ban by heading to QFC and Walgreens — both have put re-usable bags on sale for 99 cents to encourage shoppers to make the switch.
Below is a detailed summary of what the bag ban will mean for you, via Seattle Public Utilities:
- Prohibits all Seattle retail stores from providing customers with single-use plastic carryout (shopping) bags, including those advertised as compostable, biodegradable, photodegradable or similar.
- Allows retail stores to provide customers with any size recyclable paper or reusable carryout bags
- Requires retail stores to charge a minimum of 5 cents for paper carryout bags of 1/8 barrel (882 cubic inches) or larger. These are typical grocery bags with a flat bottom greater than 60 square inches.
- Requires retail stores to show all bag-charges on customer receipts; stores keep all revenue. The charge is a taxable retail sale.
- Allows retail stores, at their discretion, to charge for smaller bags or provide them free.
- Allows retail stores to provide carryout bags made of plastic 2.25 mil or thicker, with or without charge at their discretion.
- Requires that bags to which the 5-cent charge applies contain at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled fiber and display the minimum recycled content on the outside of the bag. Use of recycled fiber and labeling is encouraged for all sizes of paper bags.
- Imposes a $250 fine for violations.
- Promotes reusable carryout bags as the best alternative to single-use plastic bags.
Exemptions from the law
- Customers using vouchers or electronic benefit cards from state or federal food assistance programs for grocery purchases are exempt from the 5-cent paper bag charge.
- Plastic bags used in stores for bulk items or to protect vegetables, meat, fish and poultry, frozen foods, flowers, deli foods and similar where moisture would be a problem are exempt.
- Plastic bags for take-out orders from restaurants are allowed, though use of recyclable paper bags is encouraged.
- Dry-cleaner, newspaper, and door-hanger bags and plastic bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for use as garbage bags or to contain pet waste, or approved compostable food and yard waste bags are exempt.
- Note: Merchants with supplies of plastic carryout bags purchased before Ordinance 123775 became law January 19, 2012, may use them until their supplies run out.