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Don’t forget your bags – plastic bag ban starts on Sunday

Posted by Meghan Walker on June 29th, 2012

On Sunday, Seattle retailers will no longer be handing out plastic bags at the checkout stand. In December, the Seattle City Council voted to enact the ban, which eliminates thin plastic bags and charges a 5-cent fee for paper bags. Our news partner, The Seattle Times, reports that Seattlites use 292 million plastic bags a year but recycle only 13 percent of them, according to Seattle Public Utilities (SPU).

Some stores are making a big push to help customers transition. SPU is partnering with several Seattle retailers, including all 16 Safeway stores, to give away more than 32,000 free reusable bags to shoppers — half from Safeway, half from SPU — while supplies last. The bags will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis, starting Sunday morning.

Town & Country Markets, which includes the Ballard Market, has been in support of the ban since the get-go. “Getting plastic out of the system is the right thing to do,” Tony D’Onofrio, sustainability director for the Town & Country Markets told the Times. “The ordinance is simple enough to implement, and the 5-cent fee will offset some of the costs to grocers.”

The ban includes the following mandates, according to SPU:

  • 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.

Similar plastic bag bans have been approved in Portland and several California cities, including Los Angeles. “From our conversations with local retailers, and from what we have seen in other Washington cities that have adopted bans on throwaway plastic carryout bags, we are expecting a smooth transition when the new law takes effect here on July 1,” said SPU program manager Dick Lilly in a press release.

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