Beginning in January, shoppers must pay 20 cents for each plastic or paper bag they use at grocery, drug and convenience stores in Seattle. The Seattle City Council this afternoon also passed a ban on foam containers at food-service businesses that will take effect in January.

Beginning in January, shoppers must pay 20 cents for each plastic or paper bag they use at grocery, drug and convenience stores in Seattle.

The Seattle City Council this afternoon also passed a ban on foam containers at food-service businesses that also will take effect in January.

The city will distribute at least one free reusable bag per household, and it will consider providing more free bags to low-income shoppers.

“This is a voluntary fee,” said Council President Richard Conlin, who worked with Mayor Greg Nickels on the proposal. “No one has to pay it. You only have to pay it if you choose not to use reusable bags.”

The foam ban will take place in two stages.

In January, businesses that serve food will have to stop using polystyrene or Styrofoam containers, such as clamshell containers at takeout restaurants. The deadline does not apply to foam trays used for raw meat and seafood at grocery stores. Those items will be banned in July 2010.

Starting in July 2010, the ban will expand to all plastic food containers and plastic utensils. Food-service businesses will have to start using biodegradable or recyclable containers and utensils.

The foam ban passed 7-0. Councilmembers Nick Licata and Richard McIver were absent.

The bag fee passed 6-1. Conlin and Councilmembers Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, Jean Godden, Bruce Harrell and Tom Rasmussen were in favor, and Jan Drago opposed it.

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com