August 19, 2009

Seattle voters turn down 20-cent bag fee

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There will be no 20-cent bag fee for Seattle residents, the Seattle Times reported today. While the city had passed an ordinance last year to start charging for every paper or plastic bag residents received from grocers, convenience stores and markets, that was halted after opponents quickly funded an initiative to put the decision back in the public’s hands.

With over half the ballots counted, voters in Tuesday’s primary rejected the fee 58 percent to 42 percent. Referendum 1 would have made the city the first in the nation to target both plastic and paper bags. According to the Seattle Public Utilities, about two-thirds of the 360 million paper and plastic bags Seattleites use each year end up in the garbage.

Plastic bag makers outspent bag fee supporters’ lobbying efforts by 15-to-1.

Across the country, bag taxes have encountered mixed reactions. While a 5-cent bag fee was passed in Washington D.C., New York dropped its proposed charge and Philadelphia outright rejected a plastic bag ban. In California, bag manufacturers successfully sued Oakland and Manhattan Beach after the municipalities proposed citywide bans on plastic bags.

In an Associated Press article last week, David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay in Oakland, likened bag manufacturers’ efforts to the tobacco industry’s campaigns to fight smoking bans:

We’ve seen lobbying and blatant attempts to intimidate cities… They’re trying to force an expense on a city and hope that cities would drop their bag ban efforts…

Some feel that if the reputably eco-concious Seattle rejected the bag fee, similar proposals will be doomed elsewhere.

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