Is Seattle's ban on plastic bags working?

SEATTLE — In a review of Seattle’s ban on single-use plastic bags, city staff reported Tuesday that there has been a 50 percent reduction of plastic bags going to city dumps in a span of four years.

The ban came into effect in 2012, but staff with Seattle Public Utilities said as yet no business has been fined the $250 citation for violating the policy.

“Hasn’t been a need to. In terms of the stores we have gone into and found there’s noncompliance, we send them a warning letter. We follow up with a visit,” said Sego Jackson, the project manager for product stewardship at Seattle Public Utilities.

In order to bring this report to a council committee, SPU inspectors chose 25 businesses to visit and found that most drug stores and retail stores are complying.

But about half of convenience stores and grocery stores, particularly the ones independently owned, were not.

When questioned by council members, SPU said no warnings or penalties were issued to those found in violation.

Here is a cheat sheet of what types of bags are allowed:

In general, larger paper bags cost 5 cents for customers, while smaller paper bags are free.

SPU said that first its staff works with businesses to educate them on the ordinance. Then upon first observation that a business is not in compliance, an inspector will fill out a form and send a letter to the business. Then the second incident of noncompliance will result in a fine.

Council Member Mike O’Brien said it was fine to not issue fines for the first couple of years as the focus was educating people, but “now that it’s been in place for four years, it feels like OK, now there are people that are just willfully neglecting. And it’s just not anyone’s priority.”

Jackson said the 5-cent charge for paper bags is to expire in December, but they will seek to renew it.

They will also be seeking to avoid confusion over compostable bags. They hope to modify the ordinance so that green-colored bags are reserved for compostable bags only, and that other bags given out in Seattle should not be green.