No More Plastic Bags in Seattle, Mexico City Closes Huge Landfill As Recycling Rises

The City of Seattle City unanimously passed a bill that bans plastic bags and charges 5 cents for paper bags to encourage people to bring their own bags when they shop. 

Council Bill 117345, which goes into effect July 1, is intended to help clean up Puget Sound and protect marine wildlife from 292 million single-use plastic bags thrown away each year.

Only 13% of those bags get recycled. Washington State consumes a total of 2 billion plastic bags a year.

In addition to environmental organizations supporting the plastic bag ban, businesses and unions advocated for the bill, including the Northwest Grocery Association, which represents the state’s largest supermarkets (Safeway, Fred Meyer, QFC and Albertsons), the Washington Restaurant Association, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, and local independent grocers.

"Of course people are not intentionally littering their bags into Puget Sound, but with so many in circulation, bags are ending up there, causing real damage to habitats and wildlife, says City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who sponsored the bill. Bringing our own reusable bags when we go shopping is a simple step we can all take that will protect our environment and reduce unnecessary waste."

Last year, for example, a gray whale washed up on shore with  more than 20 plastic bags in its stomach.

Other Washington State cities, Bellingham, Edmonds and Mukilteo passed similar legislation earlier this year. More than a dozen municipalities in California, the Hawaiian islands of Maui and Kauai, and over 30 coastal towns in Alaska have banned plastic bags. 

Seattle’s law also requires retailers charge 5 cents per paper bag they hand out to encourage people to bring their own bags, rather than just switching to paper. Retailers will keep the money as part of the incentive. Producing paper bags is actually more resource-intensive than that of plastic.

In 2008, Seattle attempted to charge 20 cents for paper and plastic bags, but strong pushback from the plastics industry killed that. The industry successfully persuaded voters to reject the measure, which they spend $1.6 million on to get on the ballot.

Mexico City Closes Landfill, As Recycling Rises

Mexico City announced it would close its landfill by the end of this year, which is one of the world’s largest. 

The site will be turned into a recycling separation plant and composting center, and the old landfill will generate energy through landfill gas capture, but the 12,600 tons of garbage the city used to dump there will stop.

The city has successfully reduced its garbage 50% by recycling and composting. 

Going forward, concrete giant Cemex will buy 3,000 tons of garbage a day to convert to energy, and the remaining garbage will be dumped in smaller landfills. And a new plant will recycle construction waste into building materials.

Closing the dump will cut greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum 2 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. 

Mexico City has been aggressively ramping its recycling program. Whereas only 6% of waste was recycled three years ago, that percentage is now at almost 60%.

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