SEATTLE – There’s been a 50 percent decline in the amount of bags going into the garbage from Seattle’s residential sector, Seattle Public Utilities announced Tuesday. But residents and businesses should expect more changes in the near future.
The plastic bag ban took effect in 2012, but some businesses, like fast food restaurants, can still give out plastic bags.
Between 2010 and 2014, the amount of plastic bags in residential garbage declined from 262 tons to 136 tons, according to Sego Jackson, project manager for project stewardship at Seattle Public Utilities.
“The large retailers, the large apparel stores and grocery stores are pretty much fully compliant,” Jackson said.
There is a $250 fine for businesses that continue to give out plastic bags after warnings, but the city has never used it.
“There hasn’t been a need to in terms of the stores we’ve gone in to and found there’s non-compliance,” Jackson said. “We send them a warning letter and follow up with a visit.”
Smaller groceries and convenience stores are typically where those conversations take place, he said.
Now SPU is planning to suggest a change in what colored bags exempt businesses can give out.
“The problem with these green bags is that one of these is compostable and the other is not and the public can’t tell the difference,” Jackson said as he held up two bags.
He said it becomes a problem when people put their food waste into the curbside yard debris program, using bags that aren’t compostable. He said it’s difficult and expensive to separate out the types of plastics contaminants of the compost.
“What we think needs to happen is to restrict the green coloration to compostable bags only and not allow it for the petroleum bags,” he said.
The proposed changes will be introduced to councilmembers later this year. They would decide whether or not to approve them. SPU also plans on suggesting extending a rule that retailers charge 5-cents for paper bags. That part of the ordinance was supposed to end in December of this year.
“The paper bags are actually quite expensive so that helps offset the cost,” Jackson said, adding it’s also supposed to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags.
There’s been a repercussion of the law though: some retailers have complained about the cleanliness of reusable bags.
“One association with whom SPU spoke identified this as a major concerns for the health of customers and staff bagging customer groceries,” a report to city council read. “To address this concern, SPU will … publicize the important of regularly washing reusable bags.”