Wednesday, August 19, 2009

breaking news --- To Tax, Ban, or Live with the Plastic – Seattle Voters Reject a Tax in Favor of . . . Using Bags for Poop, Trash and Totes?

By Paul K. Haeder

So my significant other today said, “Well, that was no surprise . . . I don’t see how you are so shocked.” Yeah, well, I thought the 20 cent fee would have stuck. You know, Seattle with all those David Suzuki and Alexandra Cousteau and Bill McKibben talks. The mayor and council who are looking toward some sort of horizon on growth containment. The activists who like bikes and want to be leaders in the country. King County’s Bluer than Blue citizenry. Something would have pointed to a successful bag tax.

I wasn’t shocked, and, well, I wasn’t disappointed that the tax was voted down today. It’s more emblematic of a larger problem in the global warming, sustainability, ecological footprint movement. Representative of all the work we have to do to educate people on ecological footprints. How we need to work with all sorts of groups – the low income, the religious community, the business community.

So, green Seattle, whose residents are known for taxing themselves for parks, libraries, bike lanes, defeated the 20 cent fee on plastic and paper disposable store bags. There seems to be a reason why -- the Progressive Bag Affiliates, part of the American Chemistry Council, spent $1.4 million to overturn the ordinance, which is precedent- setting for both the city as the largest contribution to a local ballot measure in history. Supporters of the tax, which the Mayor and council voted for last year, raised about $93,000 against the Referendum One backers. So much of the media came out against the 20 cent tax. There were some really silly things said about the tax. And mudslinging.

Go see Chris Jordan's work on photographing consumption:

ACC is gleeful on their web site as they posted breaking news on this story.

But this is a teachable moment – yes, the misinformation campaign was pretty wide ranging coming from the so called Progressive Bag Affiliates. Tax supporters have learned that the approach next time is just forwarding an outright ban.

Brady Montz, Seattle chairman for the Sierra Club and a spokesman for the pro-fee group, said Wednesday that San Francisco considered a fee before becoming the first city in the nation to ban plastic bags in 2007. "We'll see far more cities going for a ban," he said. "That's probably the way the battle is going to shift." [Seattle P-I]

This massive plastics industry opposition didn’t sway Edmonds, Wash., and Palo Alto, Calif.. Both cities have recently passed bans on plastic bags at retail stores in recent months. Here are the stats, from around the globe, on bags:

· According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags.

· Four out of five grocery bags in the US are now plastic.

· Plastic bags cause over 100,000 sea turtle and other marine animal deaths every year when animals mistake them for food.

· In a dramatic move to stem a tide of 60,000 metric tons of plastic bag and plastic utensil waste per year, Taiwan banned both last year.

· According to the BBC, only 1 in 200 plastic bags in the UK are recycled.

· According to the WSJ Target, the second-largest retailer in the U.S., purchases 1.8 billion bags a year.

· As part of Clean Up Australia Day, in one day nearly 500,000 plastic bags were collected. Unfortunately, each year in Australia an estimated 50,000,000 plastic bags end up as litter.

. The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store.

· Each high quality reusable bag you use has the potential to eliminate an average of 1,000 plastic bags over its lifetime. The bag will pay for itself if your grocery store offers a $.05 or $.10 credit per bag for bringing your own bags.

· Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC one group harvests 30,000 per month

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