Seattle Bag Ordinance FAQs

FAQs: Seattle Plastic Bag Ordinance

Here are some answers to questions you might have about Seattle's bag ordinance:

  • Why five cents (rather than the 20 cents from the last ordinance)?
    • Washington DC passed a 5 cent fee on bags and bag use went down by 85% within months.
  • Isn’t recycling plastic bags better?
    • Definitively not. Plastic bags clog the sorting equipment at the recycling centers and take valuable hours to stop the machines and unclog them.
    • In addition, bags (and other plastics) are baled and largely sent across the ocean and then downcycled into lower grade plastic items. It is much better to use less bags and thus have less to recycle.
  • Is this really that big of an issue?
    • One-use disposable plastics ARE a big problem. They are accumulating in our oceans.
    • Seattle uses 292 million bags every year so getting rid of that many bags would be significant
    • Passing ordinances like the Styrofoam ban and the bag ban helps build our strong environmental ethic here in the Pacific Northwest. We are leaders in the country on many environmental issues and these ordinances are small steps that reflect what people can do in their own daily lives which lead to their action on tougher things like climate change.
  • Isn’t paper worse than plastic in terms of greenhouse gases?
    • Yes. The manufacture and transport of paper is worse. That is why this ordinance has a five cents fee on paper bags (grocery size or larger). Plastic bags are much worse than paper in terms of accumulating in the ocean. The goal of the proposed ordinance is to promote the use of reusable bags.
    • Paper bags biodegrade whereas plastic bags just break down into smaller pieces that remain for hundreds of years, harming our wildlife. Ultimately, reusable bags are the best.
  • Isn’t this unfair to low income residents?
    • People on food stamps (EPC cards) are explicitly exempt. The city will also be doing free give-a-ways for low income residents
    • In many, many countries (including Europe), people bring their own bags. They carry them folded up in their backpack, purse or bag.
  • Why can’t we use compostable or biodegradable bags instead?
    • These bags contaminate the waste stream – regular plastic bags that are recycled. It is a big problem for our recycling program when we introduce contamination (like bags that have a different chemistry).
  • Why don’t we see plastics on the beaches of Puget Sound?
    • Plastic bags are buoyantly neutral and so they don’t float on the surface, like Styrofoam. So they do not wash up on the beaches. Instead, they get shredded and break down into tiny pieces over time. Some of them (unknown percentage) fall to the bottom of the Sound and get buried in the mud.
  • What about my dog poop?
    • Veggie bags, newspaper bags and other bags will still be available.
  • How many bags do we use in Seattle?
    • The city has estimated that we use about 292 million plastic bags per year (360 million total, including paper)