Council votes to ban “greenwashing” of non-compostable bags

Last week, The City Council voted unanimously to make Seattle the first place in the nation to ban the use of misleading green- and brown-tinted non-compostable plastic bags.

The lawmakers also moved to prohibit the use of false “eco” labeling on non-compostable bags, and to make permanent Seattle’s five-cent charge for recyclable paper shopping bags.

“Now residents will be able to tell which bags are truly compostable and which are not because bag manufacturers and retailers will help provide clarity rather than confusion,” says Sego Jackson, a waste-prevention expert at Seattle Public Utilities.

According to the City, food waste composting in Seattle has increased every year since 2008, when its collection was made available for all single-family residents.

Many Seattle residents use green tinted compostable bags to collect their food waste. However, most green produce-type bags are made of petroleum-based plastic.

Some plastic bags are mistaken for compostable because they are tinted green, have the words “eco” or “bio” and symbols such as leaves and trees printed on them. Some are printed with confusing terms such as degradable or biodegradable.

When people unknowingly use these “look-alike” plastic bags, they wind up polluting our local compost. The ordinance approved by the Council today, the first of its kind in the nation, will help keep plastic out of our compost.

The ordinance requires that all compostable bags provided to customers by retailers must be tinted green or brown and must be labeled compostable. The legislation also requires the bags to meet strict composting standards in order to be labeled as compostable.

Any provided plastic bag that is not compostable may not be tinted green or brown. Confusing or misleading terms such as “degradable” will not be allowed on bags provided to customers.

The ordinance also makes permanent the current requirement that retailers charge at least five cents for each large recycled paper bag provided to customers. Plastic carryout bags are already banned by Seattle Code and will continue to be banned.

According to the City, since the bag ban ordinance became law, in 2012, residents have continued to increase their use of reusable bags and decreased the plastic bags in residential garbage by half.

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