Approve Referendum 1, the Seattle bag fee
Industry opponents of the 20-cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags adopted by the Seattle City Council put the question before voters. The Times recommends approval of Referendum 1, to approve the fee.
Vote | Seattle Referendum 1: Bag fee
A wholly avoidable fee on disposable plastic and paper bags deserves voter support to reduce litter, landfill volumes and environmental damage.
The 20-cent-per-bag fee was proposed last year by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and passed by the Seattle City Council. Industry opponents campaigned to refer it to voters. Referendum 1, on the Aug. 18 primary ballot, asks voters to approve the fee or reject it.
Pretty straightforward, and so is the intent of the ordinance: To dramatically reduce the estimated 360 million plastic bags used each year in Seattle.
Supermarkets, drugstores and convenience stores would charge customers 20 cents for each disposable plastic bag or paper bag they use. Shoppers can avoid the fee by reusing bags from previous trips, or having reusable totes to use. Many outlets offer sturdy bags at low cost. Some stores even credit customers a few cents for each bag the store does not have to provide.
Opposition money comes from groups with a stake in the disposable-bag business. The fund to fight the fee tops $1.4 million, an extraordinary sum in local politics.
They do not want green Seattle in the roll call of cities spurning plastic bags.
San Francisco banned petroleum-based bags in 2007, and Los Angeles will ban their use next year. Locally, environmental concerns moved the Edmonds City Council to ban plastic bags. Washington, D.C., passed a 5-cent fee, and cities as different as Baltimore and Santa Monica, Calif., are looking at bans or fees. Plastic bags are losing favor in countries around the world.
Seattle's fee structure lets large retailers keep a portion of the fee to cover their administrative costs, and smaller stores keep all 20 cents.
The fee is an incentive to change behavior. Seattle residents are remarkably adaptable to changes in garbage collection and recycling. Pleas to cut water use during summer dry spells dramatically changed consumption, and kept it low.
Plastic and paper bags have never been free. Consumers pay for them. And they pay for the consequences of their presence in the garbage and waste stream. This is a nudge to change behavior. Approve the fee.
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