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Not to mention the effects on health…

April 8, 2008

The styrofoam and grocery bag fee is a very positive and progressive move for the city of Seattle! I loathe having my take home food put in styrofoam containers, which NOT recyclable. Many gas station coffee stations still use styrofoam cups too when the paper alternative is so easily available in a recycled content for those of us who happen to forget our travel mug for the day.

On Wednesday, April 2, Mayor Greg Nickels and I announced a joint proposal for a 20-cent “green fee” on all disposable shopping bags at the city’s grocery, drug and convenience stores, along with a ban on foam containers in the food service industry. Legislation to implement this program will be considered by the council this spring, and these waste prevention measures will take effect Jan. 1, 2009.

The goals of the bag fee and foam ban are to cut down on waste, reduce the use of environmentally harmful plastics and cut the production of greenhouse gases. Implementation will reduce the use of scarce resources, decrease pollution of our environment, and significantly reduce a source of litter in
our streets and parks.

These proposals are important elements of the Zero Waste Strategy, the Seattle Plan to increase recycling and reduce our solid waste, a plan that received the unanimous endorsement of the Council and Mayor last year after a careful and thorough review of how we can step up to meet the
environmental expectations of our community.

The foam ban and green fee for shopping bags are just two of several parts of the city’s new waste reduction and recycling strategies approved by the Council and mayor in 2007. The overall goal is to increase Seattle’s
recycling rate to 70 percent by 2025 and reduce the amount of waste shipped to landfills by at least one percent per year over the next five years.

The bag and foam proposals were developed by a coalition of community organizations, including People for Puget Sound, Foam Free Seattle, and the Bring Your Own Bag campaign, along with businesses like Puget Consumers Cooperative. As a result of their work, the Council and Mayor agreed to make reducing Styrofoam and plastic bag use the first priorities in considering substances that could be banned or restricted as part of the Zero Waste strategy.

The bag fee is the right alternative because it utilizes market forces to accomplish a public good. People can choose to pay the fee or bring their own bag to the store. Any revenues that the City receives from people who choose to pay the fee rather than switch to reusable bags will be required by law to return to the Solid Waste Fund, where they can be used to provide bags for low income consumers, promote recycling and waste reduction, and reduce solid waste rates. This program makes the polluter pay, and rewards
those who do the right thing.

The foam ban focuses on the retail outlets, rather than the consumer, and there is ample opportunity for transition to more sustainable alternatives. SPU has crafted a proposal that makes both of these transitions easy on business and consumers.

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) estimates that 360 million disposable bags are used in the city every year, most made of plastic. Almost 75 percent of these come from the city’s 575 grocery, drug and convenience stores (out of a total 3,600 retail and restaurant businesses). While Seattleites have a good record of recycling paper bags, most plastic ends up in landfills. But paper bags will also be subject to the fee because, taking into account the environmental costs of logging and shipping, they have significant adverse
environmental effects.

The green fee is intended to encourage and promote the use of reusable shopping bags. The city will set aside at least $1 million to distribute bags to seniors and low income households. Retailers will keep 5-cents of every bag to cover administrative costs. Retailers grossing less than $1 million annually will keep the entire 20-cent fee.

Charging a fee for disposable bags will cut the number of throw-away bags coming out of grocery, drug and convenience stores by an estimated 70 percent or more, according to the city’s analysis, and will reduce the use of disposable shopping bags in Seattle overall by more than 50 percent. By preventing the manufacture of 184 million bags a year, Seattle will cut greenhouse gas production by nearly 112,000 tons over a 30-year period. A similar fee in Ireland achieved a 90 percent reduction in use, from 325 to 23 bags per person per year.

The proposed ban on foam containers used by the food service industry would include such items as plates, trays, “clamshells” and hot and cold beverage cups used at restaurants, delicatessens, fast food outlets and coffee shops, and meat trays and egg cartons used at grocery stores. The legislation would also require that by July 1, 2010, all food service businesses currently using disposable plastic or plastic-coated paper products to convert to packaging that is compostable or locally recyclable.

Cities across the world are adopting policies to discourage throwaway plastic and plastic-coated paper products in the food service industry. As a result, manufacturers and suppliers are responding with new products – including compostable plastics made from vegetable sources, such as corn starch and sugar cane. Over the next two years there will likely be a variety of new products on the market.

More than 20 U.S. cities have banned polystyrene food packaging, including Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., and Suffolk County, N.Y.

To smooth the transition, the city will set up business advisory committees representing the retail and restaurant sectors. In addition, the city will help food service businesses work together for lower prices on new compostable products.

Many people in the community have been vocal and passionate about this issue for years.

These are a key part of the implementation of the Zero Waste Strategy that brings the City’s solid waste policies in line with Seattleites’ environmental values.

For more information on this initiative, go click here.<>

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Just say YES! to green!

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 13, 2008 10:57 pm

    Our company is about to debut at the in NYC on the last week end of April. We make reusable shopping bags that are flexible fashionable and socially concious. All of our bags are made in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina Survivors. In fact all of our vendors are outsourced there. We wanted to give new business and jobs to a struggling economy in New Orleans. Our bags hold twice as much as a plastic bag because they are flexible and they bounce when you walk so whatever you are carrying seems lighter.The website is not done yet but we are almost ready to hit the streets. Stay tuned! Joan Elmore
    PS part of our proceeds go to Hope House in New Orleans a charity that feeds,trains and helps the homeless find housing.


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