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Twelve Days to Bag Ban

City working to ensure smooth transition away from throwaway plastic carryout bags.

With Seattle’s new ban on plastic shopping bags just 12 days away, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) has mailed out more than 10,000 notices and made some 500 phone calls and in-person visits to local retailers, to make sure they are ready when the ban takes effect.

SPU has also prepared flyers, in 15 languages including English, with information about the bag ban.

The new ordinance, which was unanimously approved by the Seattle City Council last December, prohibits all Seattle retail stores from providing customers with single-use plastic carryout shopping bags, including those advertised as compostable, biodegradable, photodegradable or similar.

The goal of Seattle’s ordinance is to reduce waste — particularly, plastic litter. Plastic never disappears. It can harm animals and affect the food chain, especially in waterways and oceans.

The Seattle bag ban follows similar ordinances in neighboring Edmonds (in effect since 2010) and Bellingham (approved early in 2011) where the ban on throwaway plastic bags also takes effect this July. Bainbridge Island and Mukilteo have followed suit with bans effective in November this year and January 2013, respectively.

For $1 or less, there will be plenty of reusable bags available so shoppers can keep a reusable carryout bag or two in their cars, backpacks or purses ready when they need them. Having a reusable bag handy means buyers won’t need to pay the 5 cent fee required to get a large recyclable paper bag to carry groceries or other large purchases.

Shoppers can also watch for advertisements and in-store promotions by stores giving away free reusable bags or selling them at a discount to help customers obtain reusable bags.

Seattle ban was spearheaded by City Councilmember Mike O’Brien who got the law passed late last year, giving retailers more than six months to adjust to the change, though shoppers may still see plastic bags at smaller stores since the city is allowing them to use up inventory purchased before the law was passed.

Plastic bag bans have also been approved by city councils in a dozen California cities, including Los Angeles last month, and Portland, Ore., a year ago.

In Seattle, SPU estimates that throwaway plastic carryout bags in the garbage fill 16 shipping containers sent to the landfill annually.  Most of that waste will disappear as shoppers switch to reusable carryout bags, especially bags made of washable fabrics.

 Here are the key elements of the Seattle ordinance:

  • Single-use plastic merchandise carryout bags are banned. This includes plastic-like bags claimed to be compostable, biodegradable, photodegradable or similar.
  • Customers must be charged 5 cents per large paper bag. (Typically equivalent to large grocery bags — 882 cubic inches — with flat bottoms greater than 60 square inches.)
  • Large paper bags requiring the 5 cent charge must be a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled fiber and the fiber content must be marked on the outside.
  • The 5 cent bag sale is taxable and must be shown on sales receipts. Retailers retain the revenue. Smaller bags may be provided with or without charge at the store’s discretion.
  • Thick plastic bags — 2.25 mil or greater — are deemed reusable and may be provided with or without charge at the store’s discretion.

More information including illustrated program-summary flyers in multiple languages and answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) is available on the city’s website at