Say Goodbye to Free Shopping Bags

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Seattle's City Council approved the proposed disposable bag fee yesterday with a 6-1 vote. Starting in January 2009, shoppers will have the option of either bringing their own bags to the store, or paying 20 cents per disposable bag to tote their goods. According to an article in the Seattle Times, officials expect that the new fee will cut Seattle's annual 360-million-bag habit in half.

In anticipation of the new fee, the city plans to distribute at least one reusable shopping bag to every household.

Along with the bag fee, the council unanimously passed a ban on Styrofoam containers that will be enforced in stages: In January, restaurants will need to stop using foam takeout containers. By July 2010, the ban will extend to foam trays used in grocery stores for deli items and raw meat, and at that point, all disposable plastic containers and utensils will begin being phased out. Stores will need to use recyclable containers, or switch to biodegradable plant-based plastics.

We've written before about this issue – twice, in fact. But although we support these new policies both for eliminating unnecessary garbage and for sending a message to the public to start re-thinking their use of disposable items, our enthusiasm comes with one reservation: we cannot stop here.

Compared to the habitat destruction caused by building too-large houses on untouched green space on the city's outskirts; compared to our transportation sector's appetite for fossil fuels; compared to the toxic waste that spills into Puget Sound whenever too much rain hits the pavement – shopping bags are small potatoes indeed. So let's use this small victory for what we believe is its higher purpose: not as a sustainable end in itself, but as a jumping-off point for big-picture sustainable changes to come.

Photo credit: flickr/fixler, licensed by Creative Commons.


Small potatoes indeed. Unfortunately the timing of a new fee, and a regressive one at that, no matter how small and voluntary couldn't be worse. I promise this will make it harder to pass the parks, public market and transit levies coming to a vote in the fall. While the average Seattle worldchanging reader may think all is well I've been hearing a lot of anger with local government lately and unless this working-class dissatisfaction (what David Sirota calls The Uprising) gets acknowledged and addressed by the environmental movement, it will be exploited by those who've used in the past . Contract With America ring any bells? Seattle, in many ways a wonderfully progressive city, seems to have dropped the ball in linking issues of the environment to those of the working class, which is increasingly been pushed out and pushed down by Seattle's ill-planned and developer friendly New Urbanist nightmare. I know we don't have much time to change our ways, but I'm afraid that if we don't take the time to form a broader coalition with labor unions, religious groups and neighborhood activists in working class neighborhoods ultimately we will fail.

Posted by: aj on July 29, 2008 6:24 AM

Picking and choosing what hip train of trend to ride is no stranger to Seattle, we have been on the metro natural verge of economic elitism since acid wash jeans and flannel shirts, but seriously, Why should you tax the patrons 20 cents for your supply of plastic bags anyway? If I were to buy a bag for 20 cents I would like one that is manufactured to be degradable so that it is decomposable in the landfill, while made of post consumer product. why not go after the grocers efforts at minimizing waste? just dont supply the bags at all, and while your at it I would like to see a difference made in the overuse of packaging on the food you purchase at the grocery store, the shelving is full of five options of the same items that are all equally additive laden waste that is processed plastic packed and double bagged.

Posted by: LKM on August 3, 2008 4:34 PM

Lets bag up the over use of consumerism and ban that too!

Posted by: LKM on August 3, 2008 4:36 PM

Hardly "World Changing": it simply adds another layer of complexity to an unsustainable, and increasingly, poor functioning system. And whose this we? Personally, I see the "bag tax" as not a victory, but a distraction. Those misguide souls who believe this a jumping off point to larger discussions must realize that people don't like being told what to do.

Posted by: GregoryWade on August 5, 2008 9:45 AM