Seattle City Council members voted unanimously on Monday to ban retailers from handing out plastic bags to customers.
The new ordinance, which takes effect next July, will make it illegal for stores in the city to provide customers with single-use, plastic carry-out bags. But it permits retailers to hand out recyclable paper bags, with retailers charging a 5-cent "pass-through charge" for each paper bag a customer receives.
The bag ban comes more than two years after Seattle voters rejected a plan to charge customers a 20-cent fee for every plastic or paper bag they received from retailers.
Representatives of some of the area's largest grocery store chains support the new Seattle plan. They would be able to keep the 5-cent fee to pay for increased costs of going paper-only or to provide cheap reusable bags at checkout stands.
The ban does not prohibit plastic bags from being used in the produce, meat or frozen food departments.
"This bill is a great example of a broad and diverse coalition of people and organizations coming together to do the right thing for our environment," said Councilmember Mike O'Brien, chair of the Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhoods Committee. "We have the support of grocers, retailers, restaurants, labor unions, and environmental organizations in Seattle."
The ban is expected to reduce pollution, free up landfill space and improve the environment. Seattle's residents use 292 million plastic bags and 68 million paper bags a year. About 82 percent of paper bags are recycled, while only 13 percent of plastic bags are recycled.
During a short public comment session at the beginning of Monday's meeting, four people dressed as "bag monsters" in costumes made from plastic bags serenaded the council with a holiday tribute.
Only one person spoke out against the ordinance, saying she wondered if the ban would really help the environment and remove plastic already in the Puget Sound.
Hilex Poly Co., the country's largest plastic bag manufacturer, believes the ban pushes consumers toward more resource-intensive alternatives.
"By voting to implement a ban on plastic bags, the city of Seattle misses the opportunity to lead the way toward the meaningful reduction of litter through increased statewide recycling efforts," said Mark Daniels, vice president of sustainability and environmental policy for the company, in a written statement.
The Northwest Grocery Association, which represents QFC, Safeway and Fred Meyer stores in the state, supports the ban, but a group representing independent grocery stores does not.
"Tiny bits of plastics, including plastic bag film, are being found in all water samples taken in Puget Sound," said Heather Trim, Policy Director of People For Puget Sound, in a statement. "Reducing the use of single-use plastics, like bags, will make a difference for the health of wildlife in Puget Sound and out in the Pacific."
Read the text of the Seattle ordinance below: