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A Step Back: Seattle Voters Reject 20-Cent Plastic Bag Fee

9/11/2009 12:00:00 AM

Tags: plastic bags, recycling, waste, Seattle

Non-biodegradable plastic bags take hundreds to thousands of years to break down in landfills. Americans toss billions of plastic shopping bags every year, putting tons of toxic chemicals into the trash—and into the environment. Progressive communities are discouraging shoppers from relying on the bags by placing fees on their use—but, sadly, Seattle won’t be among them. Last month Seattle voters rejected a proposal for a 20-cent fee on plastic bags

plastic bags
Plastic bags can pile up in your home—or in the landfill. Photo By evelynishere/Courtesy Flickr. 

Had the fee been approved, it would have instituted a 20-cent charge per disposable (paper or plastic) bag at grocery, drug and convenience stores, encouraging consumers to bring reusable bags. Small businesses (those that receive less than $1 million a year in revenue) would have been allowed to keep the entire 20 cents, while bigger businesses would have kept 5 cents. The remainder would have gone to Seattle Public Utilities to maintain the program and to provide free reusable bags to low-income families. 

The race may have come down to money. The anti-fee side, which included the American Chemistry Council, Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil and other major plastic bag producers, raised $1.4 million for its campaign, while the pro-bag side raised only $80,000

The good news? Other cities in the United States and across the globe have implemented fees on plastic bags or banned them altogether. In January, China banned all shops from providing customers with free plastic bags. Plastic bag use is already down 66 percent, eliminating 40 billion bags total. Ireland’s PlasTax campaign in 2002, which created a 33-cent tax on plastic bags, reduced Ireland’s plastic bag use by 94 percent. In the United States, San Francisco and Oakland, California, banned large retailers from providing non-biodegradable plastic bags. 

Even if your home city hasn’t banned the use of plastic bags, make a statement by carrying reusable bags. Use the plastic bags you do have for fun crafts projects: Try making a quirky lunch tote or check out Craftzine for more plastic bag craft projects.

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