Bagless in Seattle

In August 2009 the people of Seattle decisively rejected a 20-cent fee for every paper or plastic bag they get from supermarkets, drug stores and convenience stores, the fee having been adopted by an ordinance which had not yet taken effect. Greg Pollowitz hailed the outcome at NRO, quoting an AP story that memorialized the comment of one Rob Gala (shouldn’t that be Gaia?), a spokesman for the Seattle Green Bag campaign: “This campaign is about much more than just one decision of the voters. It’s really about raising the awareness of voters, and we’ve really accomplished that.”

Unsatisfied with raising the consciousness of the voters, however, the bagless are back. It’s sort of a Night of the Living Dead situation. The Seattle City Council is proposing a ban of plastic carryout bags. The law would ban plastic bags from grocers, retailers and department stores. It would also impose a charge of five cents for each paper bag to encourage reusable bags.

The Seattle Times reports that the bagless now have a handy prop in the campaign to ban plastic bags:

A gray whale that washed up on a Puget Sound beach last year has become Exhibit A in the debate over whether to ban plastic bags in Seattle.

Environmentalists point to the contents of the dead whale’s stomach, itemized in a necropsy, as a compelling argument that the thin-film carryout shopping bags should be outlawed. The inedible trash that the whale had ingested included sweatpants, a golf ball, surgical gloves, small towels and more than 20 plastic bags.

“While it’s true we don’t know what killed the whale, I think we can all agree those plastic bags don’t belong there,” said Dan Kohler, regional director of Environment Washington, which — along with several other environmental groups including People for Puget Sound and the Sierra Club — supports the city’s proposed ban on plastic bags as a way to protect the Sound and marine wildlife.

Why pick on plastic bags? Opponents of the law make a good point:

[O]pponents of the ban, including the plastics industry and some independent grocery stores, say plastic bags represent a fraction of the litter that ends up in the water. What’s more, they argue, plastic bags are convenient, reusable and recyclable.

“The hysteria around this issue is remarkable,” said Michael Johnson, inside-sales manager for Poly Bag in Tacoma, which makes plastic bags and packaging. “If we’re using the itemized list of things that ended up in the whale’s stomach, I’d like to see all those other things banned as well.”

You’d think that discrimination against plastic bags would be illegal in Seattle.


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