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Seattle Bans Plastic Bags, Introduces Fee For Paper Bags

Plastic bag caught in a tree

It’s no secret that plastic is one of the most environmentally damaging products on the planet, and by now, many of us are aware of the damaging effects of plastic shopping bags. Taking more than 500 years to break down, plastic bags are slowly being replaced by reusable shopping bags, as consumers realize the large impact such a small, seemingly insignificant item can cause.

Aside from consumers, some cities are also attempting to take control of the number of plastic bags used. Seattle is joining in on the movement, and on Monday the city council voted to ban single-use plastic bags from retail stores. The ordinance was approved unanimously after months of discussion and debate, and includes a provision to charge 5 cents for the use of paper bags as a way to encourage consumers to bring their own bags.

Seattle residents use 292 million plastic bags and 68 million paper bags per year. The ban has been put into place to free up landfill space, reduce littering and pollution, and improve the environment.

This isn’t the first city to install a paper bag fee. Businesses in Washington D.C. that sell food or alcohol are required to charge 5 cents for each disposable paper or plastic bag. San Francisco instilled a ban in 2007, the first in the nation. Several other cities around the country are considering putting these bans in place as well, including Austin, Texas, Jackson, Wyoming, and Eugene, Oregon.

This isn’t the first attempt Seattle has made at reducing bag waste. In 2008, the council voted to charge a 20-cent fee on paper and plastic bags, but the plastics industry helped overturn it, spending $1.4 million to back a referendum. The fee was defeated in 2009.

Low-income shoppers in food assistance programs will not be charged the paper bag fee.

Do you think this is a good idea? Are there paper or plastic bag fees or bans in your city?

Image CC licensed by Kate Ter Haar

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