Monday, July 14, 2008

Paper nor plastic?

Seattle debated whether the city may follow in the footsteps of San Francisco, on July 8 discussing a proposal for a 20 cent fee on all disposal shopping bags, as well as a long overdue ban on foam food containers. The meeting was called by the City Council's Environment, Emergency Management and Utilities Committee.

Those who attended the meeting (including The Bag Monster) heard from fellow citizens in overwhelming support of the ban, which if approved would go into effect in 2010. One provision of the ban is that each household in the city would receive a free reusable shopping bag.

Who opposes the fee? Professional curmudgeons and the grocery industry, who counterproposed a per-visit fee.

Coverage -- Seattle PI, Times, and The Stranger


Ravenna resident Liz Tatchell told a Seattle City Council panel what members would hear from citizens throughout the night -- Seattle is ready to bag the grocery bags. "I think it's a great step in the right direction," Tatchell said Tuesday during the first public hearing on a proposed ban on foam food containers and a fee for disposable grocery bags. "It's more than just the bags -- it's a lifestyle change."

Ballard resident Jamie Wine said he's ready for the city to take action. A marine educator, Wine said he's tired of seeing bags and foam containers washed up on Seattle-area shores. "It's kind of funny that we use these bags for 15, 20 minutes and they last for 500 years," Wine said. "As a Seattle resident, I'm here to tell you that I'm willing to pay."

Yoko Wang, owner of Toshio's Teriyaki in Rainier Valley, is not too worried about a possible ban on Styrofoam clamshells in Seattle. She's confident that biodegradable containers to keep her broiled, boneless chicken hot will be available by the time the city mandates the switch -- in July 2010. She was shocked, however, to hear the ban would extend to plastics, right down to each chili-sauce container and fork. "Everybody is going to have to use chopsticks," Wang said after her Monday lunch rush. "I can give lessons." ... Wang, who has run Toshio's in Rainier Valley for the past seven years, says she understands the city's desire to preserve the environment. "We have to cooperate for global warming."
She is not sure whether she would raise her prices to pay for more expensive biodegradable containers. "Everything is going up — chicken, beef. That is the hard part. I don't know what I should do."

Several customers said Monday they would be willing to pay another dime to protect the environment.

Council President Richard Conlin, who helped draft the plan, said the changes are needed because "we know about the environmental problems caused by plastic in the middle of the Pacific, to the plastic that clogs our drains, to the litter we find on our streets. Here's a chance to do something where there are excellent substitutes available."

Jim Fenton, a representative for the QFC grocery chain, and Joe Gilliam, a spokesman for the Northwest Grocery Association, argued that a bag tax represents an undue burden on low-income people, and would consume too much time at the checkstand... The first “concern” is absurd (if they’re that worried about slow lines, why not get rid of cigarette sales and ID checks?), and the second is just disingenuous, particularly the second. As I’ve said before, anyone who can afford groceries—in other words, just about everyone—can afford to buy a 73-cent reusable bag.

A commenter just asked me why we can’t just recycle plastic bags. To start with, fewer than one percent of all plastic bags used in the United States are recycled. Why? In part, because bags can only be recycled if they’re made purely of one kind of plastic and have never been contaminated by coming into contact with any foreign materials (one reason even most of the plastic bags you chuck into the recycling bin end up in landfills). In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the vast majority of plastic bag “recycling” is really just downcycling—because it’s more expensive to recycle plastic bags than to just make new plastic bags, the bags are almost always turned into other plastic products that themselves can’t be recycled.

Meeting Video (Seattle Channel)

My own contributions to the effort: 1) at the beginning of the year I started keeping a cloth shopping bag in my work case (I pack groceries in panniers when I'm on the bike); 2) I will be retrofitting my Serviette Union food reviews with tags "Syrofoam Takeouts" and "Paper Takeouts."

Bag the bags -- or the Bag Monster will git ya!

Photo from


  1. Archived Comment by Amber on July 14, 2008 at 5:40pm

    YES!!!! GO SEATTLE GO BOY ! thats the ticket or err the recipt hehe.

  2. Archived Comment by Mr_Grant on July 15, 2008 at 9:27am

    I just kept thinking that he must be really hot in there.

  3. Archived Comment by Amber on July 15, 2008 at 4:54pm

    what never heard of the sarad wrape way of takeing off the pounds . trust me his coustome just saved him a bundle and dieting heheheh