Seattle Voters Reject 20-cent Bag Fee

Plastic bag monsters at the 2009 Soltice Parade in Seattle


Well, it looks like the Plastic Bag Monsters weren’t able to “scare” up enough votes in favor of the 20-cent grocery bag fee in Seattle.Β  Voters rejected the fee for every paper or plastic bag they would get from supermarkets, drug stores and convenience stores.Β  With about half the ballots counted in the all-mail vote, it was failing 58 percent to 42 percent in Tuesday’s primary.Β  What will city leaders do next?

All eyes were on the city of Seattle as it planned to phase-out styrofoam containers in restaurants and proposed fees on disposable shopping bags.Β  Seattle was one of the first cities in the United States to take such an aggressive environmental stand and many other cities soon followed.

In July 2008, the Seattle City Council passed the ordinance as a way to encourage its citizens to use reusable bags and in turn reduce their contribution to landfills.Β  The fee was to begin on January 1, 2009, but opponents of the ordinance were able to collect the number of signatures needed (14,000) to put the question to voters.

The referendum to reject the fee was backed by the plastics industry (of course).Β  The Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax is a group formed by the American Chemistry Council, 7-11, and the Washington Food Industry.Β  They argue that 91% of Seattle residents already recycle and reuse grocery bags so the fee is pointless; and the fee puts an undue burden on the poor during these tough economic times.Β  The Coalition also wonders why large box stores such as Target and Wal-mart would be exempt.

All interesting arguments…what do you think?Β  Did big industry players fool the voters into rejecting the bag fee?Β  Should the city government mandate our behavior in regards to the environment?Β  Is negative reinforcement more effective than positive reinforcement?

I doubt this will be the last we hear of the debate.Β  Dow Constantine has advanced to the general election for King County Executive and Mike McGinn is well on his way as a Seattle mayoral candidate.Β  Both men are known for their strong commitment to the environment and are endorsed by the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club.Β  This could get very, very interesting.

Image credit: Jamiriquai at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

One comment
  1. Axel

    OK I’m a huge supporter of the bag fee (which we have had in France for quite a while now), but I must admit that 20 cts is a bit much. Here we usually pay around 3 cts for a non-reusable bag, and 60 cts for a large, sturdier bag, which you can exchange for free at the store once it’s old (so that they deal with the recycling). Most people now have their own bags, which they bring shopping. You hardly ever see anyone using the small plastic bags anymore – and nobody complains.
    Maybe the first step would be to make the baggers more responsible? I remember when I lived in the US how they would only put 2 or 3 items per bag… I would consolidate them and go from 12 bags to 2. Before taxing the consumption, we should try to reduce it.

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