Seattle's City Council approved the proposed disposable bag fee yesterday with a 6-1 vote. Starting in January 2009, shoppers will have the option of either bringing their own bags to the store, or paying 20 cents per disposable bag to tote their goods. According to an article in the Seattle Times, officials expect that the new fee will cut Seattle's annual 360-million-bag habit in half.
In anticipation of the new fee, the city plans to distribute at least one reusable shopping bag to every household.
Along with the bag fee, the council unanimously passed a ban on Styrofoam containers that will be enforced in stages: In January, restaurants will need to stop using foam takeout containers. By July 2010, the ban will extend to foam trays used in grocery stores for deli items and raw meat, and at that point, all disposable plastic containers and utensils will begin being phased out. Stores will need to use recyclable containers, or switch to biodegradable plant-based plastics.
We've written before about this issue – twice, in fact. But although we support these new policies both for eliminating unnecessary garbage and for sending a message to the public to start re-thinking their use of disposable items, our enthusiasm comes with one reservation: we cannot stop here.
Compared to the habitat destruction caused by building too-large houses on untouched green space on the city's outskirts; compared to our transportation sector's appetite for fossil fuels; compared to the toxic waste that spills into Puget Sound whenever too much rain hits the pavement – shopping bags are small potatoes indeed. So let's use this small victory for what we believe is its higher purpose: not as a sustainable end in itself, but as a jumping-off point for big-picture sustainable changes to come.