The city of Seattle, Washington this week passed legislation that will impose a 20-cent per-bag fee on consumers who request single-use plastic carrier bags at the city's supermarkets, drug stores and convenience stores.
The new law was passed by an overwhelming 6-1 vote by the Seattle City Council.
The new per-bag fee on single-use plastic carrier bags will go into effect in January, 2009.
In addition to passing the 20-cent plastic bag charge, the city council voted 7-0 to ban certain types of styrofoam food containers.
That new legislation will be implemented in two-parts: A ban on styrofoam food containers currently used at take-out restaurants will take effect in January, 2009, at the same time the bag fee at Seattle's supermarkets, drug and convenience stores is implemented.
Phase-two of the foam container ban eliminates the use by supermarkets and other food retailers of foam trays used for fresh, raw meats and seafood displayed for sale. It will go into effect in July, 2010. The Seattle City Council said it believed that would give food retailers enough time to find an alternative to the foam trays for meat and seafood merchandising.
The Seattle legislation imposing the 20-cent per-bag consumer fee on single-use plastic carrier bags at supermarkets, drug and convenience stores, combined with the ban on foam containers, is the most comprehensive legislation enacted at the same time we've observed to date in a U.S. city or county.
Retailers will still be permitted to use paper grocery sacks to packaged shoppers' purchases.
Bag ban and fee legislation picking up steam throughout U.S.
The Seattle plastic bag fee legislation also comes at a time when single-use plastic carrier bag ban and fee legislation is picking up steam in cities and counties throughout the U.S.
On July 1, the city of Manhattan Beach in Southern California enacted a total ban on the use of non-reusable plastic grocery bags for stores of all retail formats in the city.
Under the Manhattan Beach plastic grocery bag ban legislation, grocery stores, food vendors, pharmacies and city facilities have six months to phase out the use of single-use plastic carrier bags in their stores in the city.; all other retail establishments have a year to do the same.
The Manhattan Beach single-use plastic carrier bag law is the first we've found in the U.S. that bans retailers of all formats--ranging from supermarkets, drug and convenience stores, to discounters and department stores-from using the free, single-use carrier bags.
On July 22, the Los Angeles City Council passed legislation banning the use of single-use plastic carrier bags in grocery and other retail stores in the city by 2010--but only if the California State Assembly fails to pass pending legislation that would would impose a 25-cent per single-use plastic carrier bag fee on shoppers who request the bags in a California supermarket.
The Los Angeles plastic bag ban was proposed by Councilman Ed Reyes, who called plastic bags "the graffiti of the L.A. River," (his way of describing plastic bag litter) which passes through his district.
The Los Angeles plastic bag ban law is designed to encourage California legislators to vote for a proposed California State Assembly Bill, AB 2058, (currently being debated in the Appropriations Committee) that if passed would place 25-cent per-bag fee on all single-use plastic bags requested by consumers in all California supermarkets. The consumers would pay the 25-cent per-bag fee at the point-of-sale.
Commenting on the legislation, Los Angeles City Councilman Alarcon says the city council would eventually pass a law regulating plastic bags. But for now, the council's vote is designed to persuade state lawmakers to impose a fee on the bags
"If they (state of California) don't do [a fee], then we do a ban," said Alarcon, who represents the northeast San Fernando Valley. "So yes, at some point there would be an ordinance."
The city of Los Angeles estimates that Los Angeles consumers use 2.3 billion plastic bags each year. According to the state of California, only about 5% of plastic bags are recycled statewide.
In May, another Southern California city, the coastal community of Malibu, passed a law banning the use of single-use plastic carrier bags in the city known among other things as the home of numerous Hollywood celebrities.
The law applies to all retailers (just like the Manhattan Beach legislation), including grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies and city facilities. These Malibu retailers have about six months (from May) to comply with the plastic bag ban law, or face a fine of up to $1,000. Smaller vendors will have up to a year, as is the case with the Manhattan Beach law.
In Northern California, The San Francisco Bay Area city of Palo Alto, home to Stanford University, passed a law earlier this year that places a per-bag fee on each single-use plastic carrier bag requested by shoppers in the city's supermarkets and pharmacies.
Palo Alto is the third San Francisco Bay Area city to enact either outright bag ban legislation or a per-bag fee law.
In June of last year, San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to enact a ban on the use of the single-use plastic grocery bags in supermarkets and drug stores. The San Francisco law applies to stores that do $2 million or more in annual sales. It allows the city's convenience stores, numerous corner groceries and all other format retailers to continue using the single-use plastic carrier bags.
Nearby Oakland last year also passed a bag ban similar to San Francisco's law. However, a plastics industry trade group chose to challenge Oakland's law in court. Earlier this year a court ruled in the trade group's favor, preventing Oakland from enacting the legislation. The Oakland City Council is considering whether and how to rewrite a single-use plastic carrier bag law that will hold up in court.
The plastics industry, through a couple trade organizations, has said it plans to challenge the Manhattan Beach and Malibu bag bans as it did Oakland's No trade groups have yet challenged the San Francisco plastic bag ban law, which has been in effect for over a year now.
A few other U.S. cities have passed either bag ban of fee legislation since last year. Many more are currently debating and considering such legislation.
With the cities described above enacting bag bans or fees all in the last few months, we're seeing increased emphasis being put on the issue throughout the U.S. This is especially the case in California because the proposed 25-cent per single-use plastic carrier bag legislation currently being debated in the State Assembly's Appropriations Committee is creating more attention to the issue in cities and counties throughout the state.
Global bag ban and fee legislation
The fact that counties like Australia, China, Ireland, and many nations in Asia and Africa have either banned the bags outright or imposed a fee on them also is serving to galvanize attention to the issue in the U.S.
Additionally, the issue is super hot in Europe, where the European Union is discussing a nationwide ban or fee scheme, and where individual nation's like the United Kingdom have said unless that country's retailers drastically reduce the number of single-use plastic carrier bags they use by the end of this year, it will pass legislation early next year either banning the bags or imposing a fee on them.
Numerous European cities in countries like France and Germany also have either inacted bag bans or fee laws.
Individual retailers in the UK like Marks & Spencer and a couple others have already announced plans to charge customers for the single-use plastic carrier bags in their stores. The UK's Co-operative Group grocery chain says it's in the process of eliminating the single-use plastic carrier bags and is testing 100% compostable carrier bags in some of its stores as a possible alternative.
Whole Foods Market, Inc. stopped offering single-use plastic carrier bags completely in April in all of its stores in the U.S., Canada and the UK.
We expect to see single-use plastic carrier bag ban and fee legislation continue to pick up in the U.S., as it is in Europe and elsewhere, for the rest of this year. It's becoming the primary environmental focus in terms of retail impact among scores of city councils and county governmental bodies throughout the U.S. It's at these local levels in the U.S. where we expect to see most of the new bag ban and fee legislation being implmented, rather than on a statewide basis.