Unexpected consequence of Seattle's bag ban: Carrying stuff

Aug 1, 2012

It’s been a month since single-use plastic shopping bags were banned in Seattle. Now, if you buy groceries, clothes or pretty much anything else, you can either bring your own bag or pay 5 cents for a paper one. 

At KPLU, some of us have had to admit it – instead of paying the 5 cents, we loaded our arms with our new purchases and tramped off to our car/bus/home.

And, we’re not alone.

Jeff and his family (pictured above) are in town from Fresno, Calif., visiting relatives. We caught up to them on First Avenue in downtown Seattle:

“We were here about a month ago and that’s when the ban came into place. … We were at Target then and Target gave us these two really big ones, but of course we left them at home. We came down here to the market and bought all kinds of stuff and we’ve just been carrying it because nobody is giving bags out …

“And the 5 cents, I don’t know. I mean, it’s easy to carry.”

One person commented on our Facebook page (on an earlier version of this story) that he's seen lots of people packing their arms with purchases:

“I work for a major retailer ... I have never seen more people so willing to juggle all of their purchases while complaining all the way out the door, rather than just spend a bloody nickel on a bloody paper bag. Or, just learn to bring a bag with them."

Local feelings 

One month in, Seattle residents still have mixed feelings about the  bag ban. Some say the new 5-cent charge for paper bags is unfair. Stores can still sell certain heavyweight plastic bags, but they have to be at least 2.25 millimeters thick, and there might be an additional charge. 

Others don't mind the ban because they've already made the switch to reusable bags.

John Patterson, for example, used reusable totes before plastic bags were outlawed last month.

"I get my bags from the library," he says. "I just pay a dollar for them, and then I take them everywhere - pick up my books and pick up my groceries.

Patterson works at A-Aall Pipe Palace at Pike Place Market, and he says he's noticed more customers choosing  more environmentally friendly bags, or no bags at all.

"I've noticed that more and more people are shunning bags and using pockets, or using their own bags," he says. "Whereas before, people would ask for bags for any old little trinket. I think more people are aware of using their own."

If you forget your reusable bag, it’s not the end of the world; Seattle Public Utilities says all large paper bags are now recyclable and contain at least 40 percent recycled fiber. But they say they're  hoping the 5-cent charge for paper bags will encourage people to switch to reusable totes.

The city estimates that the bag ban will keep around 290 million plastic bags out of the landfill every year.

Seattle is following a bag-banning trend along the West Coast: Portland outlawed plastic shopping bags last fall, followed by Los Angeles in June. Issaquah will start next spring, and Bellingham’s bag ban kicked in Aug. 1.

And now, a scene from Portlandia:

Here's some more information about the bag ban from Seattle Public Utilities (you can view the brochure in full screen mode by clicking the bottom right icon):