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.

Community Center first in Seattle to compost

The Loyal Heights Community Center is the first in the city to start composting. “This means that our center staff and patrons will be producing less waste that will end up in the landfill,” Alexis Govan, the Teen Recreation Leader says.

Dena Schuler, Site Coordinator; Alexis Govan, Recreation Leader and TomiJo McCarrier, Assistant Coordinator. Photo courtesy LHCC.

Cedar Grove delivered the compost bin late last month and “customers are swarming to the bins like flies on, well, compost,” the folks at LHCC tell us. “We’re really excited about being able to provide this service to our staff and customers,” Dena Schuler the Site Coordinator says. “Not only are we doing our part to help out the planet we’re also raising awareness in the community.” Composting is part of several programs offered at LHCC including the preschool, senior, day camp and teen activities.

New city ordinance has restaurants going green

New rules go into effect Thursday requiring restaurants, coffee shops, food courts and cafeterias in Seattle to serve one-time use foods in compostable or recyclable containers.

Drew Greer, owner of Ballard Brothers Seafood and Burgers says this ordinance is a move in the right direction. “I wholeheartedly believe that the new city requirements are fair and Ballard Brothers packaging systems provide the duplicatable model for all the fast food chains that operate in the city,” Greer says, “We proved the system was doable two years ago and have perfected in over the last two years.” The restaurant has been using compostable packaging and utensils for two years. “It’s just good business and follows Ballard Brothers Seafood & Burgers tenets of using only wild sustainable seafood, conserving resources and buying the best quality products with the least negative impact on our environment,” Greer says.

“By offering their customers recycling and composting choices, Seattle restaurants will help prevent up to 6,000 tons of food service ware and leftover food from being sent to the landfill every year,” says Tim Croll the Solid Waste Director at Seattle Public Utilities. “That’s the equivalent of a garbage train more than 100 cars long that will just disappear.”

Greer says that in the time he’s been participating in the Cedar Grove composting program, two-thirds of the waste produced at the restaurant has been diverted from the landfill.

The new rules mean that napkins, paper bags, wooden stir sticks and other take-away containers can go into compost bins. According to Seattle Public Utilities, hot and cold beverage cups and lids will now go into recycling containers instead the trash. The food establishment must provide the appropriate container for disposal. There are a few exceptions until July 1, 2011, including utensils, straws, small portion cups, and foil faced, insulated wrap.

The biggest hurdle for Greer is working with the customer. “Most of the time it is about reeducating our customers to understand that all their waste from the table once they are done eating goes in the green bins, except the plastic red baskets and plastic beverage cups that get washed in our dishwasher,” he says.

Seattle is the first city in North America to require single-use food service packaging be either compostable or recyclable. Issaquah will implement similar rules next year. More information on the ordinance can be found here.