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Seattle Bans Free Shopping Bags & Foam Take-Out Containers

60,000 Plastic Bags - The number used in the U.S. in 5 Seconds according to this artist

60,000 Plastic Bags -

The number used in the U.S. in 5 Seconds according to this artist

Did I mention that I love this city? On Monday the Seattle City Council voted 6-1 to approve a 20-cent charge for paper or plastic disposable shopping bags. And it gets better: they’re going to send each household of the city at least one free reusable bag.

They’re also working with food banks, the food stamp program, and other services to get more bags to low-income families and seniors. Food banks will be accepting donations of the bags as well.

Over the next year, the number of bags used in Seattle is expected to decrease by at least 184 million bags. Over a 30-year period, the change is expected to cut greenhouse gases by 112,000 tons.

In a vote 7-0, the Council also voted to ban plastic foam take-out containers and grocery store packaging. The Bag Fee and Foam Ban will begin on January 1, 2009.

Julia Steinberger at WorldChanging Seattle has a good point: it’s not enough. But I think it’s a good thing – it raises awareness, it sets an example for other cities, it is a stepping stone for other positive change.

Fine Detail

Detail of the image above

What Do You Think?

Do you use reusable bags? Do you think this Bag Fee is a good thing? Do you think it will hurt the local economy in a time of recession (this is one of the arguments against it)?

For More Information:

Seattle City Council Press Release

City OKs 20-cent fee on plastic, paper bags

Seattle City Council approves shopping bag fee

Say Goodbye to Free Shopping Bags

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33 comments to Seattle Bans Free Shopping Bags & Foam Take-Out Containers

  • Well now we will see if the Burien Garden CLub … I mean the Burien City COuncil follows suit…Not holding my breath. and other neighboring cities follow suit.

  • I know the objective is to get people to bring their own. I try, but forget way too often. So I’m guessing they will make a lot of money on the project, especially in the short term as people try making new habits. What is the money earmarked for?

  • This is great! I’m glad it’s starting to happen in the US! I almost always have a bag or two on me, but sometimes I forget too. Even so, do we ALWAYS need a bag. If it’s just some clothes or that one item from the grocery, we can carry it out, right? Yeah for Seattle!

  • No, I haven’t used a bag in well over 6 months. And, managed to covert my husband to a reusable tote which he keeps in his truck. So what if it’s used to shop for truck parts, right? Secretly, I giggle to think of him in a big, manly truck store hauling around his free, purple Earthbound Organics tote. Funny, huh?? ;o)

    Oh, and have I mentioned yet today that living on the west coast rocks? Banning bags is just one more tick on my “reasons to move” list!

  • I’ve been using cloth bags for everything for about 5 years now, and sporadically before that. It became a lot easier to remember to have a bag with me when I made it a goal to use the cloth for all purchases not just groceries.

    Will it hurt the economy? Only for plastic bag makers.

  • I’m a cloth bag user. I think the new ordinances are great! I’m sure other cities will get on board. Wait until they document how much less litter will be found around town.

  • I think this is awesome! I wish there was a way I could get Tucson to do this. Any ideas of spearheading this? I haven’t used a plastic bag in 7 months. I keep them in my car. I also have a Chico bag clipped to my purse, which makes it easy for those other purchases. Makes me wish I lived in Seattle.

  • I got my first reusable cloth bag in 1987. I have been using it every week since then and it’s still going strong! Truth be told, I often don’t bring a bag with me when I buy no grocery items, but also 9 times out of ten it’s something small and I don’t need a bag anyway. I’d like to see a return to burlap feed sacks and calico flour sacks too.

  • This is awesome! They didn’t ban the bags…just banned giving them away. People opposed really do still have a choice and people who forget won’t go bagless. Excellent idea. I too want to know what they tax will fund.

  • Right on! It’s about time. We use our cloth bags everywhere (not just the grocery store). The bags are stored in the car, so when we bust it out once a week for our grocery/library run, the bags are always within reach.

  • Kelsie

    Yes! This sounds wonderful, although I don’t envision that happening in small-town Kentucky anytime soon.

    My boyfriend and I have an arsenal of cloth bags that we take shopping with us, and a “grocery backpack” (it has it’s own insulated compartment!) we use when we bike to the grocery store. Everyone looks at us like we just stepped out of a flying saucer and started burning the American flag. :/ The Kroger employees are supposed to give us a discount for bringing our own bags, but normally, they just stand there and stare at us. Other people treat us as a quaint anachronism.

    The best part about cloth bags is that a single, well-made bag can hold about three plastic sacks-worth of groceries. The second best part is that if you’re handy at ALL with a sewing machine, you can make a fashion statement of your bags. :)

  • I think it’s awesome! I believe part of the bg fee initially will go towards making cloth bags available to low income families and foodbanks.

  • Go, Seattle! I knew I liked that place. Unfortunately here in the St Louis area, the folks at the grocery store still occasionally look at me like I’ve sprouted horns and wings when I either say “No thanks, I don’t need a bag” or “Please use these bags that I brought with me.” We have bags in both cars, and I carry a packable on in my purse at all times so I truly can’t forget to bring it with me. At this point we accidentally take home (or accept) about 2 bags per week – a huge improvement over last year…

    The styrofoam ban is also amazing. I still haven’t come to the point when I’ll bring my own plastic ware to a restaurant so I can avoid styrofoam to go containers. I also find that the typical plastic to go packaging is labeled #6, which we can’t recycle here anyway. Not sure which is better for the environment…

  • That’s great that the whole city will be doing this. In my state (Colorado), so far only the health food store chain that is everywhere here has stopped giving out all bags – paper or plastic this past spring and sells their reusable bags for .99 or gives out cardboard boxes if you have nothing.

    I keep a slew of tote bags stuffed into one large tote in my car at all times and even have one Chico bag in my purse for whenever I may buy something on the fly. I love the Chico bag.

    I am doing a giveaway on my blog right now for 2 reusable tote bags – one organic cotton with a tree design on it and one large shopping bag made out of recycled polypropylene with woven handles if you’d like to stop by and try to win one or both:

  • I think it’s great, and just did a similar post yesterday on it! for those asking about where the money is going, this is from yesterday’s Seattle P-I article:
    The 20-cent-per-bag “green fee” is expected to raise about $3.5 million each year. Seattle Public Utilities needs about $500,000 to run the program. The remainder will be used to offset expected increases in the city’s solid-waste rates.

  • DAPHNE, To add to what Jill & Hippy Goodwife wrote above, this is from the City Council website:

    “The bag fee legislation helps businesses defray the cost of administering the program by allowing larger retailers to keep 5-cents of every bag to cover administrative costs. Small businesses, those grossing less than $1 million annually, will be allowed to keep the entire 20-cent fee.

    Some of the funds generated will be used to offset a portion of the needed solid waste rate increase associated with new garbage contracts. Part of the funds collected will also go to support Seattle Public Utilities’ waste prevention and recycling programs.”

    Initially I was a little taken aback by the fact that it goes straight to the businesses, but on second thought: that sure is incentive to self-enforce the regulation!!

  • Three cheers for Seattle!!! I think this is wonderful! Our family quit using disposable bags almost 2 years ago. We now have 12 – 15 reusable bags – whenever we unload groceries, we return them to the car so they are always there.

  • Burbs- I take my shopping bag into Napa, Home depot- you know all the manly man stores. The other day I was in front of an elderly couple, she saw my bag and slap him on the arm and said- “I told you to bring your bag in here” to which he judt looked at her and grinned”I did honey I brought you”

  • Wow! Can’t imagine them trying to implement something like that here in Jax (FL)…we’d have the first mass theft of plastic grocery bags from people trying to bail on the charge (or people being threatened with bodily harm if they don’t get their stuff bagged for free). Thankfully, Husby and I have reached that point where we use the reusable bags automatically…now just gotta get the recycling under control, cuz it spills all over the foyer right now…thinking of converting our laundry hamper into a recycling bin this weekend.

  • I love my reusable bags. They’ve got shoulder straps as well as regular handles and hold tons of food! I can finally bring all the groceries in from the car in one trip.

  • promosyon canta

    I always read your blog in high spirits. Thanks :)

  • just me

    I’m so excited that Seattle is making this change. My parents live in Seattle, and I’ve been trying to get them to reduce their plastic bag consumption for quite a while now. I even sent them a chico bag, so they could have a bag handy in the car.

    Melanie J., I’m in Jax, too, so I hear ya. This place is largely ignorant of/hostile to environmental issues. BUT, I will say–a year ago, when I handed my reusable bags to the baggers at Publix, they’d look at me like I was insane and would act like they had no idea what to do with this bag-thing I’d handed them. (Like I’d just handed them an Easter basket and asked them to put my groceries in it. I’m like, ‘It’s a bag, idiot, just like them there plastic things you have sitting in front of you’.) But now, they don’t even blink when I hand them my bags. I won’t say they look thrilled, but at least they know what to do with a cloth bag.

  • I totally support the Bag fee. We’re trying to catch up here in California – a few steps behind. Life Less Plastic did a piece a while back about how bag fees work better than what grocery stores typically do which is to give $.5 or something back per reusable bag used.

  • More big points for Seattle. Yes, San Francisco has banned plastic bags for big retailers but there are still tons of them here for little guys. People still looked confused when I decline a bag but eventually we’ll learn to do it different. Especially with big cities taking the lead.

  • I find it interesting that in places like San Francisco you still have people confused about not wanting a bag. I think of California as being very green. I live in the Boston area. I occasionally have to work the register in my artist coop. I would say about half the people don’t want bags any more.

  • I got so good at using cloth bags that I didn’t have any plastic bags in my house. Then I got a couple of kittens who don’t use the yard to go to the bathroom in and I started needing bags in which to dispose of their litter. I tried all the ecologically sound litters including the flushable wheat one. Theoretically it’s great because then very little has to get thrown out but in reality it didn’t work so well. Anyway, I need some disposable bags for the litter which can’t go directly into the trash.

    Any ideas?

  • Sorry everyone – busy day yesterday!

    ROB, Yeah, Burien City Council… not holding my breath either. But here’s hoping. Maybe they need a little extra cash, and may find that all the extra money can help the city….

    DAPHNE, Please see my response above, #16. Thanks for asking!

    HEATHER, This is totally a part of redefining normal, eh? We have to starting thinking differently about it – you’re totally right.

    EBM, LOL. I have a bag that I received for being a Maid of Honor in a wedding. It’s pink and brown. But it’s a very sturdy & expensive bag and it’s perfect for groceries. My husband HATES carrying it. We’ve turned it inside out so there are no polka dots. ; )

    And yeah, just come over here already!

    DEB G, I agree – I think people will get used to this very quickly. I’m excited to see that change!

    JOYCE, True – and no more bags dancing in the wind. An old art teacher of mine used to call that “bag ballet.”

    ALANA, Good question! I’ll think about it a bit, do some research and maybe write a post next week addressing it.

    TAMESON, Good to hear from you!! Wow, you are so ahead of the times – 1987! I remember using my backpack for groceries in 1990 for the first time. Burlap and flour sacks are a great idea to bring back!

    JIMMY CC, Cool solution, huh? Also like that they are giving away a reusable bag to every household. See comment #16 above for your other question.

    MARCELLE, We still have a bit of an issue with the bags because sometimes we drive and sometimes we walk, so we store our bags at home. But occasionally we forget to bring them, and it’s a big bummer. I think our next move will be to get a few more and have some in each place. Good to hear from you!

    KELSIE, Sounds like you are dealing with the same problem I had back in the early 1990s in Seattle. I had crazy stares, people thought I was nuts for bringing my own bag, or for – gasp – not even needing a bag if it was just a few items. Not to forget if I – gasp gasp gasp – didn’t put my 4 potatoes into a produce bag! All that is to say that there is hope!! That was Seattle just a few years ago.

    HIPPY GOODWIFE, Isn’t it awesome that they’ve thought through a lot of the possible issues?!

    LORI, See my response to Kelsie above – there’s hope! And yeah, let’s not forget about the foam ban – that is very cool.

    NATURE DEVA, That’s great that the health food stores have stopped giving out bags! Here we truly needed the legislation – Whole Foods stopped giving out plastic bags, but there are equal problems with paper bags so that’s not a good solution! Awesome that you’re spreading the bags – I’ll not sign up to win so that they may go to someone who doesn’t have any!

  • JILL, I just noticed your plastic bag counter in your sidebar – wow!

    GREENE ONION, Hip hip hurray, I’m glad to be here! Matt and I are thinking we need to have some bags in the car and some in the house, because we walk to the store often and end up without bags in our car when we do drive. 12-15 bags – wow!

    ROB, LOL the “manly man” stores! And um, did you really see that couple or did you just want to tell that hilarious joke? ; )

    MELANIE, Great idea to convert household items into bags! I’ll be posting about that soon. And there is hope… see my response to Kelsie above.

    TEACHER A, Good point – reusable bags are prettier and more sturdy in addition to their ecological qualities!

    JUST ME, It will be interesting to see if your parents find it easier and/or more socially acceptable to reduce their plastic bag usage after the fee is implemented. Will you check back with us and let us know how they react??!

    GB, LA just passed a bag fee as well. I think they’re still duking it out, though. And SF has a plastic bag ban, so hopefully that will turn into an across the board bag initiative. Interesting note that these programs work better. A program in Ireland that is similar to the one in Seattle apparently reduced bag consumption by 90%. 90%!!!

    KATRINA, Certainly some places in Seattle still look at us oddly when we don’t get a bag, but it’s really cool how quickly that is changing. I have hope for SF! They’ve done so many other things first, that I’m sure this will come too.

    DAPHNE, That’s awesome! Hopefully numbers will quickly roll in for the Seattle program, and they will inspire other places to follow suit.

    ANGELINA, For everyday litter cleaning, Biobags. They make them for compost. We use these for litter and dog poo. We just buy the refills, and bypass the little dispenser. Or And a more expensive alternative is the Mutt Mitt. For overhaul of the litter, biodegradable trash bags. We get them from our local health food store. Or you can find some here.

  • Congratulations, Seattle! Our newly elected mayor in Portland has said he wants to propose a similar ordinance here. The foam cups and containers were banned here quite some time ago. It took me a few months to get into a pattern re use of cloth bags when I started a couple years ago. First step was remembering to keep them in the car, next was to remember to bring them into the store! another key thing is getting them back into the car after you unload your stuff in the house. I find it helps to hang them on the doorknob. My kids and friends used to laugh at me for collecting lots of canvas bags from conferences and other free sources. But, now I am using all of them – some for shopping, some for recycling, etc.
    Many other battles to fight and new habits to acquire. I hope we get the bag ban passed when Sam Adams takes office.

  • JOAN, I had no idea Portland had banned cups and containers – that’s fabulous! I’m sure Portland will follow suit with the bags soon. Our two cities do a good job of nudging each other on.

    I do the same thing with the bags: put them on the doorknob to take them out to the car! My husband also forgets to bring in the bags when he goes. I don’t usually. I always put my purse on top of the bags, or under the bags, so I can’t miss them in the car when I get out.

  • [...] Seattle is banning free shopping bags, San Francisco is banning plastic bags (with Boston, Santa Monica and LA soon to follow), Paris has banned non-recyclable bags, and China, Ireland, Israel, Canada, western India, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Taiwan, Singapore and Bangladesh have also banned or are moving toward banning the plastic bag. These are great strides and inspiring changes. You can read more about plastic bags here. [...]

  • laura k

    This is great…and long overdue. They were already charging for bags in Germany when I lived there in 1981.

  • [...] I’m a bit shocked. If the denizens of Seattle care enough about the environment to pass a city-wide ban on plastic take-out containers, you’d think they’d care enough to make mass transit a viable option in their city. [...]

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